TIME Companies

Apple Tax Breaks to Be Probed By E.U.

Apple Operations International, a subsidiary of Apple Inc, is seen in Hollyhill, Cork, in the south of Ireland May 21, 2013.
Apple Operations International, a subsidiary of Apple Inc, is seen in Hollyhill, Cork, in the south of Ireland May 21, 2013. Michael MacSweeney—Reuters

EU regulators suspect Apple, Starbucks and Fiat are getting sweeter tax deals than allowed for under the bloc's laws

The European Union opened an investigation Wednesday into the tax affairs of large corporations including Apple and Starbucks that regulators believe receive sweet tax deals that are illegal in the E.U.

The E.U.’s top antitrust official, Joaquín Almunia, will probe how Apple pays its taxes in the Republic of Ireland, as well as Starbucks in the Netherlands and Fiat Finance and Trade in Luxembourg, the New York Times reports.

The three countries are known to offer tax inducements to attract large businesses, and regulators aim to find whether the countries offered unfair tax incentives that favored particular companies and would amount to illegal state aid under the E.U.’s laws.

Ireland, which has become a preferred place for tech companies to place their international headquarters due to low corporate taxes, denied that it gives Apple a favorable tax break.

“The company in question did not receive selective treatment and there was no ‘special tax rate deal,’” the Irish government said in a statement, apparently referring to Apple.

U.S. lawmakers say that Apple has dodged billions of dollars in taxes in the United States through a complex multinational web of subsidiaries, though CEO Tim Cook has insisted his company’s tax strategy is fair.

[NYT]

TIME Scotland

JK Rowling Doesn’t Want an Independent Scotland

The author of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling, has donated $1.68m to the Better Together campaign which opposes independence for Scotland

JK Rowling has donated $1.68 million (1 million pounds) to the campaign against Scottish independence from the United Kingdom, the BBC reports. The Better Together campaign is being run by Alistair Darling, the author’s friend and former Labour chancellor.

On 18 September, Scottish voters will be invited to vote “yes” or “no” to the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Rowling, who was born in England but has lived in Edinburgh, Scotland for over 20 years, explained her decision to support the “no” campaign in a 1,289 word post on her website.

Seemingly careful to avoid causing offense, Rowling stressed that “there are intelligent, thoughtful people on both sides of this question.” However, the author added “there is a fringe of nationalists who like to demonise anyone who is not blindly and unquestionably pro-independence.”

Recognizing that she might not be seen as truly Scottish by nationalists, whom she labelled “a little Death Eaterish” in reference to a wraithlike creature from her Harry Potter novels, Rowling emphasized: “I happen to think that this country is exceptional, too.”

She went on, however, to add: “The simple truth is that Scotland is subject to the same twenty-first century pressures as the rest of the world… The more I listen to the Yes campaign, the more I worry about its minimisation and even denial of risks.”

Rowling is not the first big donor to enter the debate. Earlier this year, lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir donated £1m to the Scottish National Party who support independence.

Margaret Curran, the shadow Scottish secretary, thanked Rowling for her donation. She commented: ““It doesn’t take a wizard to work out that Alex Salmond’s case for breaking up the UK simply isn’t a risk worth taking.”

[BBC]

TIME Thailand

The Thai Junta Wants To Force Critics Living Abroad To Return Home

A girl holds a candle during a protest against military rule in central Bangkok
A girl holds a candle during a protest against military rule in central Bangkok, a day after Thai army chief seized power in a coup May 23, 2014. Damir Sagolj—Reuters

With all dissent effectively quashed at home, Thailand's military regime is seeking ways to stamp out criticism emanating from nationals based overseas

Some 23 Thai ambassadors and consuls-general from 21 nations reported to Bangkok Wednesday, summoned by a ruling junta that wants to enlist them in forcing outspoken critics of the May 22 coup d’état living abroad to return home.

Since seizing power, Thailand’s military has quashed all forms of dissent. TV channels and radio stations were taken off air — although many heavily censored versions have now returned — several hundred academics and activists were detained, and stringent censorship is imposed on print publications.

The resultant hush has been stunning, with only those based overseas still willing to make strong criticism of the military regime. But now the heat is being turned on this vocal émigré group.

Jakrapob Penkair, a founding member of the grassroots Red Shirt movement and former government minister, tells TIME from exile that his 77-year-old mother in Thailand has been phoned up and threatened, while his younger sister has been bullied at work.

“It’s almost natural [to be threatened] in Thailand now, unfortunately,” he says. “But I don’t see this as a big problem as I could never have gone this far without my family’s consent.”

Thailand’s 12th military coup since the end of absolute monarchical rule in 1932 was staged ostensibly to maintain order after six months of street protests that claimed more than 28 lives and threatened to escalate further. Thai Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha says that reforms will be carried out for over a year before elections — and he demands total support.

“Political groups and parties and leaders of the different sides of the political divide need to be careful when they say they don’t trust or have confidence in the [junta’s] work,” Prayuth told reporters Monday, reports the Bangkok Post.

And so, while the official reason for Wednesday’s powwow is to urge Thai diplomats to assure their host countries that elections will eventually be held, “there is a hidden agenda to put pressure on critics of the coup, especially to seek cooperation from the host country to send us back home,” says Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Japan’s Kyoto University, and one of the dissidents wanted by the regime.

“My family has not yet been threatened but I have already told them to be prepared,” he says. “I am anticipating this as other people have told me that when they ran away [military officials] came to their houses to annoy and humiliate [their families].”

Other than intimidation, diplomatic pressure may be employed. Pavin has been assured of support from his university, and does not believe Japan would kowtow to any repatriation request, but fears the next step may be to revoke his Thai passport, forcing him to seek asylum.

“Before [revoking my passport] they would have to issue an arrest warrant, but I have not done anything wrong — just my job as an academic,” he says. Even so, “I know an arrest warrant may still arrive.”

Jakrapob reveals that plans to set up a government in exile have been shelved, but an organization of “peaceful resistance” will be announced in coming days. “Points of mission will be set out so that people know what we are doing to resist the dictatorship in Thailand, which has become more and more vicious by the minute,” he says.

TIME ferry disaster

South Korean Police Raid Church in Hunt for Businessman Linked With Sunken Ferry

Police officers raid a religious facility owned by the Evangelical Baptist Church in Anseong, South Korea, on June 11, 2014 Shin Young-geun—Yonhap/AP

Yoo Byung-eun is believed to be the stricken Sewol ferry's de facto owner

Some 5,000 South Korean police officers raided a religious compound on Wednesday in their search for fugitive businessman Yoo Byung-eun, wanted for his alleged complicity in the April 16 Sewol ferry tragedy that left over 300 people dead or missing.

The compound belongs to the Evangelical Baptist Church where Yoo is a prominent member. Critics call the group a sect — a claim Yoo denies — and investigators believe their business arm helped fund Yoo’s complex web of holding companies, through which he allegedly owned the sunken ship. Corrupt management of the ferry’s operator is claimed to have led to deficient safety procedures, eventually contributing to the disaster.

Four church members were arrested on suspicion of assisting Yoo evade the law, and another member was detained for allegedly attempting to impede the police operation.

About 200 church members protested the raid, displaying a banner that read, “We’ll protect Yoo Byung-eun even if 100,000 church members are all arrested.”

Police and prosecutors are offering a $500,000 reward for tips about Yoo’s whereabouts, and $100,000 for his eldest son. His daughter Yoo Som-na was detained in Paris under an international-arrest warrant in May.

[AP]

TIME The Philippines

One of the U.S.’s ‘Most Wanted’ Terrorists Is Arrested in the Philippines

Officials in Manila have nabbed a top commander of the Islamic extremist outfit Abu Sayyaf

One of the U.S.’s most wanted terrorists, Khair Mundos, was brought into custody by Philippine authorities on Wednesday morning, after he was arrested in a slum near the capital’s international airport.

Mundos is a key figure in the Philippines-based terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, believed to have been responsible for a spate of lethal attacks on U.S. troops and Filipinos since forming near the city of Zamboanga in the early 1990s. His capture brings an end to a seven-year manhunt.

After fleeing prison in February 2007, Mundos worked as a “fundraiser, bomb maker, and instructor” for Abu Sayyaf. One of his roles was arranging receipt funds for his group from al-Qaeda.

“Mundos confessed to having arranged the transfer of funds from al-Qaeda to Abu Sayyaf group leader Khadaffy Janjalani to be used in bombings and other criminal acts throughout the [Philippine] island of Mindanao,” said a U.S. State Department statement.

In 2009, the State Department offered half a million dollars for information leading to his arrest. Mundos also became the Philippine government’s most sought-after terrorist, and was accused of having ties to the leader of the region’s most feared militant group, Jemaah Islamiyah, according to a U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks.

TIME India

Are Indians As Nonchalant About Rape as This Video Suggests?

A social experiment in New Delhi shows people walking away from a staged rape. A film of a parked van in New Delhi, from which harrowing female screams were emanating, shows many people walking past nonchalantly, ignoring cries for help.

Two weeks ago, India woke up to the gruesome image of two teenage girls who had been raped and left hanging from a mango tree in rural Uttar Pradesh. This shocking act was just the latest in a series of outrages, since the Dec. 16, 2012, murder and gang rape of a student in New Delhi, that have sparked nationwide angst and given India worldwide notoriety for sexual violence.

But with rape and assault taking center stage once again, how many Indians would actually try to help a woman being attacked? A group called YesNoMaybe staged a social experiment to find out, filming a van in the Indian capital from which harrowing female screams were emanating.

The video, which has already garnered more than 850,000 hits on YouTube, showed many people walking past nonchalantly, ignoring desperate pleas for help. One or two, it must be noted, were determined to intervene — including a 78-year-old security guard who tried to bash the vehicle’s doors with his stick. There is hope.

TIME Military

The Curse of ‘Friendly Fire’

A B-1 bomber over Afghanistan. Air Force / Getty Images

American bomber reportedly killed five U.S. troops in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan began with friendly fire. Now it seems to be ending the same way.

On Dec. 5, 2001, two months after the U.S. invasion, a massive 2,000-lb. (907 kg) bomb killed three U.S. Special Forces north of Kandahar. The GPS-guided weapon struck the Americans because the controller on the ground who called in the air strike changed the battery on his GPS device in the middle of the bombing run. But he didn’t realize that once the unit rebooted, the aim point it began transmitting to the B-52 bomber far above wasn’t the enemy’s location. It was his.

On Monday, at about 9 p.m. local time, it happened again, this time in restive Zabul province in the southern part of the country. “Five American troops were killed yesterday in an incident in southern Afghanistan,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday. “We do have reason to suspect that friendly fire was the cause here, specifically friendly fire from the air.” Reports from Afghanistan indicated a B-1 bomber mistakenly dropped its weapon on the commandos for unknown reasons. The blast also killed an Afghan soldier.

Kirby declined to specify the aircraft or whether those killed were special-ops troops. “Pardon me for editorializing,” he said, “but let’s remember we got five families that are having a pretty tough day today.”

Once again, Taliban fire triggered a call for airpower that apparently ended up killing those who made the call.

Fratricide — where one side kills its own in combat — is a curse of the technologically advanced. They are most likely to have the beyond-visual-range, fast weapons — and the need for batteries to summon a bomb from the heavens — that make it more likely.

Beyond the death and devastation caused by friendly fire, it ripples through the ranks, making those left behind less aggressive, more likely to forfeit the initiative, leery of fighting at night or bad weather and raising doubt in the minds of the commanders involved.

Friendly fire has been a problem as long as war has been a solution. The U.S., as the world’s most modern fighting force, has been fighting friendly fire seriously for two decades.

“The fact that the percentage of casualties resulting from friendly fire from World War I through Vietnam has been extremely low does not make the accidental killing or wounding of one’s own troops any less tragic or unpalatable,” a 1982 Army report said. “There is reason to believe that the casualties attributable to friendly fire in modern war constitute a statistically insignificant portion of total casualties (perhaps less than 2%).”

Weapons got better faster than the trigger fingers firing them. “While modern weapons have furthered the military’s combat firepower, technology that can help U.S. fighting personnel maintain situational awareness and differentiate between friends and foes in difficult combat conditions has lagged,” a 1992 Army paper noted. But doctrine — how and when to use force — and training — how to use it properly — are just as critical in reducing friendly fire as technology, military officers say.

As war has become increasingly antiseptic — with the ability to track who killed whom — friendly fire has loomed as a growing problem. In 1991’s Gulf War, 24% of the 148 U.S. battle deaths — 35 — were due to so-called friendly fire.

“The press of battle, political considerations, emotions and most particularly the lack of a comprehensive and accessible automated data base have mitigated against thorough examinations of the problem,” a 1993 outside study conducted for the Army said. “Recent analysis of empirical data from World War II, Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm indicates that historically accepted fratricide rates of about 2% … are woefully low.”

That sparked a lot of research into ways to curb such accidents, although they continue to occur, if not at the rate of the Gulf War (one tally acknowledges 23 cases of friendly fire in Afghanistan that have killed 40 U.S. and allied troops). In April 2002, four Canadians died when a U.S. Air National Guard pilot dropped a 500-lb. (226 kg) bomb on them while they were conducting a nighttime training exercise in southern Afghanistan. Three British soldiers were killed in August 2007 when a U.S. Air Force F-15 bombed their position during a firefight with the Taliban in Helmand province.

As the 1994 shootdown in Iraq of two U.S. UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters by a pair of U.S. F-15s, which killed all 26 aboard, and the 2004 friendly-fire death of NFL football star turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan — as well as the pair of bombings in Afghanistan — demonstrate, progress has been halting.

TIME Syria

Don’t Expect Assad’s Prison Amnesty Pledge to Amount to Much

SYRIA-CONFLICT-VOTE
A woman holds a picture of re-elected Syrian President Bashar Assad as she celebrates in Damascus after he was announced as the winner of the presidential election on June 4, 2014. Joseph Eid—AFP/Getty Images

The unexpected announcement that Syria's prisoners would be granted amnesty in the name of national cohesion is a welcome step, but human-rights groups, and former prisoners, are skeptical

A sweep in Syria’s presidential election last week, no matter how roundly denounced as fraudulent by the U.S. and other Western powers, seems to have put President Bashar Assad in a magnanimous mood. On June 9 state TV announced a general prison amnesty, in which Assad promised to commute death sentences to life imprisonment, reduce jail terms and even pardon those accused of joining “a terrorist organization” — regime-speak for members of the armed opposition.

If applied with the same sweeping generosity as the announcement suggests, the amnesty could result in tens of thousands of prisoners being released back into Syrian society. But families with loved ones in prison may want to temper their expectations a little bit longer, warn human-rights groups. Previous amnesties fell short of their promise, and presaged an even greater crackdown on human rights. And ambiguities in the wording of the current amnesty offer, including several nonspecified exemptions, could mean that many remain behind bars for years to come.

“Let’s see what happens on the ground first,” says Neil Sammonds, Syria researcher for Amnesty International. “If this is carried out, then of course it will be welcome. Still, it only goes a small way to addressing the concerns we have about the numbers in Syria’s prisons, their access to lawyers, their adequate medical care, their right not to be subjected to torture and the prompt investigation of those accused of torture.”

According to state television, Justice Minister Najem al-Ahmad said the decree had been issued in the name of “social forgiveness [and] national cohesion,” as “the army secures several military victories.” In short, it’s a gesture meant to consolidate support as the regime readies for new military assaults on areas still out of government control.

It could also assuage a significant problem: massive prison overcrowding. It is unclear, exactly, how many Syrians are currently under some sort of detention. Former U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who stepped down in May, said in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel over the weekend that Assad “knows that there are 50,000 to 100,000 people in his jails and that some of them are tortured every day.” Whatever the numbers, the conditions for those who do end up in detention are abysmal.

Antigovernment activist Samer — who asked not to be identified by his full name for security reasons — estimates that there are about 10,000 detainees in the central prison in Homs, his hometown and Syria’s third largest city. “It’s overcrowded,” he told TIME via Skype. “The space is too small for the number of prisoners they are holding there.” Bilal Ghalioun, who escaped from detention in Homs in April, described jail cells packed so tight that “we couldn’t even sleep on our backs; we had to crush together on our sides,” in a recent interview with TIME.

On paper, the amnesty offers a pardon to foreign fighters who have joined the rebels aligned against Assad, as long as they identify themselves within 30 days. Army deserters have 90 days to hand themselves in, and those over the age of 70 or suffering from incurable diseases would be released. Traffickers of drugs and weapons will have their terms reduced, the amnesty promises, and even kidnappers will be let go as long as their victims are freed.

But as far as human-rights advocates can tell, the new amnesty only refers to prisoners who have been formally charged in Syria’s courts. That means the untold thousands who are under illegal detention, either with the military, the intelligence services or the shadowy paramilitary groups that have sprung up in the past few years, may not be affected at all.

“The criminal-justice system in Syria is an elastic band, it can be stretched or tightened however the security or judicial forces decide best suits their needs,” said Sammonds, of Amnesty International. Ghalioun, who survived torture, starvation and abuse for two years in various detention centers in Homs, was never formally charged with a crime. That made his eventual escape easier — his family was able to bribe a prison official — but others like him are unlikely to see freedom under Assad’s new amnesty.

With reporting by Hania Mourtada / Beirut

TIME World Cup

Backlit Brazil: Photographing Silhouettes

Photographer Mario Tama explores silhouettes of people going through their daily life in Brazil—from shadows of workers constructing stages for the World Cup to crowds filling Rio de Janeiro beaches

TIME Italy

In Country’s First Gay-Friendly Ad, Son Comes Out Over Pasta in Italy

This is believed to be the first gay friendly campaign in a country that is often entrenched in homophobia

Coming out over pasta might be fairly common in Italian homes, but for what is believed to be the first time, an ad will be portraying the family event across Italian televisions.

Findus, a frozen food company, produced what is believed to be the first gay-friendly ad in the European country.

In the commercial — in which no faces are shown — a man named Luca and his mother bond over microwaved pasta cooked by Luca’s boyfriend.

“Mom, there is another small surprise,” says Luca in the ad. Is it the risotto cooked in the microwave, wonders the mother. “Gianni isn’t just my roommate, he’s my boyfriend!” quips the son.

The ad comes nine months after the chairman of Italian pasta maker Barilla came under fire for saying that he would never use a gay family in his ads. The company eventually announced a “more inclusive” initiative to “establish a more active, global leadership on diversity,” including hiring a “chief diversity officer.”

Gay activists in Europe praised the video for showcasing the simplicity and the daily life of a gay couple. “It’s a positive step forward when different types of families are portrayed in ads, as they resonate with parts of society that are usually marginalized,” said Juris Lavrikovs, the communications manager of ILGA, Europe’s International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association.

 

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