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Cambridge University halts £400m deal with UAE over Pegasus spyware claims

Cambridge

Cambridge University halts £400m deal with UAE over Pegasus spyware claims

The University of Cambridge has broken off talks with the United Arab Emirates over a record £400m collaboration after claims about the Gulf state’s use of controversial Pegasus hacking software, the university’s vice-chancellor has said.

The proposed deal, hailed by the university in July as a “potential strategic partnership … helping to solve some of the greatest challenges facing our planet” – would have included the largest donation of its kind in the university’s history, spanning a decade and involving direct investment from the UAE of more than £310m.

But Stephen Toope, Cambridge’s outgoing vice-chancellor, said in an interview that no meetings or conversations with UAE were now taking place after revelations related to Pegasus, software that can hack into and secretly take control of a mobile phone.

A university spokesperson said it had approached the UAE and other partnerships “with an open mind” and “these are always finely balanced assessments”, adding: “We will be reflecting over the next few months before further evaluating our long term options with our partners and with the university community.”

The Pegasus Project revealed a leak of more than 50,000 phone numbers that, it is believed, were linked to people of interest to clients of NSO Group, the Israeli company behind Pegasus. The principal government responsible for selecting hundreds of UK numbers appeared to be the UAE, the Guardian found.

“There were further revelations about Pegasus that really caused us to decide that it’s not the right time to be pursuing these kinds of really ambitious plans with the UAE,” Toope told the Varsity student newspaper.

Asked if he would consider pursuing the deal in the future, Toope said: “No one’s going to be rushing into this. There will be no secret arrangements being made. I think we’re going to have to have a robust discussion at some point in the future. Or we may determine that it’s not worth raising again. I honestly don’t know.”

Toope said he had not met the UAE’s ruling prince and was not holding meetings with anyone from the state. “There are existing relationships across the university on a departmental and individual academic level but there are no conversations about a big project,” he said. “We’re aware of the risks in dealing with many states around the world but we think it’s worth having the conversation.”

News of the potential collaboration, with documents seen by the Guardian detailing “joint UAE and University of Cambridge branding” and new institutes based in the Gulf state, caused an outcry over the prospect of financial ties with a monarchy notorious for alleged human rights abuses, few democratic institutions and hostility towards the rights of women as well as those of LGBTQ+ people.

Talks over the partnership were supported by the university’s internal bodies, despite concerns. But Toope’s remarks suggest that it was the UAE’s alleged use of the controversial hacking software that was responsible for ending the talks.

In July, shortly after the Cambridge-UAE partnership was announced, the Pegasus Project revealed that more than 400 UK mobile phone numbers appeared in a leaked list of numbers identified by government clients of NSO between 2017 and 2019. The UAE was identified as one of 40 countries that had access to Pegasus, and the principal country linked to the UK numbers.

The Cambridge-UAE project was to have included a joint innovation institute and a plan to improve and overhaul the emirates education system, as well as work on climate change and energy transition. “Are those important enough things to think that we might be able to mitigate the risks? The answer is: I don’t know quite frankly,” said Toope, who is to step down at the end of the year.

Dubai, the emirate city ruled by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, is also believed to have been an NSO client. The phones of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter Princess Latifa and his ex-wife Princess Haya, who fled the country and came to the UK in 2019, both appeared in the data.

Last week a high court judge ruled that Sheikh Mohammed hacked the phone of Princess Haya using Pegasus spyware in an unlawful abuse of power and trust.

Dubai did not respond to a Guardian request for comment on the Pegasus Project at the time. Sheikh Mohammed did not respond, although it is understood he denies attempting to hack the phones of Latifa or her friends or associates, or ordering others to do so.

In multiple statements, NSO said that the fact that a number appeared on the leaked list was in no way indicative of whether a number was targeted for surveillance using Pegasus. “The list is not a list of Pegasus targets or potential targets,” the company said. “The numbers in the list are not related to NSO Group in any way.”

A university spokesperson said: “The University of Cambridge has numerous partnerships with governments and organisations around the world. It approached the UAE as it does all potential partnerships: with an open mind, and rigorously weighing the opportunities to contribute to society – through collaborative research, education and innovation – against any challenges.”

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British pound plunges to new low as tax cuts spark concern

British pound plunges to new low as tax cuts spark concern

The British pound fell to all-time low against the U.S. dollar early Monday after Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng pledged a sweeping package of tax cuts, fueling concerns about the government’s economic policy as the United Kingdom creeps toward recession.

The pound fell as low as $1.0373, before rallying to $1.0672 in early London trading. It was its lowest level since the decimalization of the currency in 1971.

The British currency has lost more than 5% of its value against the dollar since Friday, when Kwarteng announced the biggest tax cuts in 50 years. It comes as the government plans to spend billions of pounds to help consumers and businesses struggling with high energy bills that are driving a cost-of-living crisis. The combination sparked investor concern about spiraling government debt.

Kwarteng and Prime Minister Liz Truss, who took office three weeks ago, are betting that lower taxes and reduced bureaucracy will spur economic growth and generate enough additional tax revenue to cover government spending. Economists suggest it is unlikely the gamble will pay off.

Opposition Labour Party economy spokeswoman Rachel Reeves said Kwarteng had “fanned the flames” of instability by talking up more tax cuts and said the government’s policies were “reckless.”

When grilled about his economic policy Sunday, Kwarteng said he believed the government was acting responsibly.

“There’s more to come,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “We’ve only been here 19 days. I want to see, over the next year, people retain more of their income because I believe that it is the British people that are going to drive this economy.”

As it is cutting taxes, the government plans to cap electricity and natural gas prices for homes and businesses to help cushion price rises that have been triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine and have sent inflation to near a 40-year high of 9.9%.

This program will cost 60 billion pounds, and the government will borrow to finance it, Kwarteng said Friday.

He said Sunday that it was the right policy because the government needed to help consumers squeezed by the unprecedented pressures caused by the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Britain can afford the cost because its debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is the second lowest among the Group of Seven large industrial economies, Kwarteng said. In the coming months, the government will announce plans for reducing the nation’s debt, he said.

When grilled about his economic policy Sunday, Kwarteng said he believed the government was acting responsibly.

“There’s more to come,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “We’ve only been here 19 days. I want to see, over the next year, people retain more of their income because I believe that it is the British people that are going to drive this economy.”

As it is cutting taxes, the government plans to cap electricity and natural gas prices for homes and businesses to help cushion price rises that have been triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine and have sent inflation to near a 40-year high of 9.9%.

This program will cost 60 billion pounds, and the government will borrow to finance it, Kwarteng said Friday.

He said Sunday that it was the right policy because the government needed to help consumers squeezed by the unprecedented pressures caused by the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Britain can afford the cost because its debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is the second lowest among the Group of Seven large industrial economies, Kwarteng said. In the coming months, the government will announce plans for reducing the nation’s debt, he said.

“Obviously, I will be setting out plans for the medium-term fiscal plan, as we’re calling it, that will show that we’re committed to net debt-to-GDP to be falling over time,” Kwarteng said.

The pound’s decline against the dollar also has been fueled by the Bank of England not keeping pace with the U.S. Federal Reserve’s efforts to rein in inflation. Britain’s central bank on Thursday raised interest rates by half a percentage point, compared with large three-quarter-point increase by the Fed last week. But U.K. inflation is the highest among major economies, and the bank has predicted a recession later in the year.

While the pound’s slide has accelerated in recent days, the currency has fallen steadily against the dollar for more than a year as investors sought the security of U.S. assets amid the economic shocks from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

The British currency has dropped more than 24% against the dollar since its recent peak of $1.4181 on May 27, 2021.

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37 firms get licences to produce 762.3MW

37 firms get licences to produce 762.3MW

Fresh licenses and permits have been issued to 37 companies to produce a total of 762.3 megawatts of electricity in order to boost power supply across the country, data obtained from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission showed.

An analysis of the commission’s latest Fourth Quarter 2021 Report on Sunday also indicated that the metering of power users dropped by 71.86 per cent when compared to the number of those who were metered by power distribution companies in the preceding quarter.

In the new report, the NERC said, “The commission approved the issuance of four new generation licenses with a total nameplate capacity of 508.5MW and the renewal of two existing licences in 2021/Q4.

“The commission also granted an aggregate capacity of 253.75MW captive power generation permit to eight companies and approved 25 mini-grid permits.”

It stated that 46 metering service providers consisting of 17 installers, 15 manufactures, two vendors and 12 importers were also approved by the commission in 2021/Q4

“The commission granted a total of 85 licenses and permits in 2021/Q4,” the report stated.

On metering, it stated that the huge metering gap for end-use customers was still a key challenge in the industry.

“A total of 81,084 meters were installed in 2021/Q4, as compared to the 288,154 meters installed in 2021/Q3,” the NERC stated.

Providing an explanation for this, it said, “The reduction in the number of meter installations in 2021/Q4 was largely driven by the winding down of the NMMP (National Mass Metering Programme) phase zero.

“The commission’s records indicate that, of the 10,514,582 registered energy customers as at December 2021, only 4,773,217 (45.40 per cent) have been metered compared to 42.93 per cent metering as at September 2021.”

It, however, stated that as a safeguard against overbilling of unmetered customers via estimation, the commission had set maximum limits to the amount of energy (energy caps in kWh) that might be billed to unmetered customers.

“The cap for each customer is set based on the customer category, consumption of metered customers on the same feeder and the customer’s tariff band.” the NERC stated.

It added, “The caps are computed based on three-month data of actual consumption records of metered customers on the same feeder.”

On customer complaints, the regulator stated that in 2021/Q4, cumulatively, the Discos received 222,639 complaints from consumers, as this was 24,479 (-9.91 per cent) less complaints than those received in 2021/Q3.

“In total, the Discos resolved 212,382 complaints corresponding to a 95.39 per cent resolution rate. Metering, billing, and service interruption were the prevalent sources of customer complaints, accounting for 58.83 per cent of the total complaints during the quarter,” it stated.

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Ethiopian Airlines Wins Bid For Nigeria Air

The Federal Government has selected the Ethiopian Airlines (ET) Consortium as preferred bidder for Nigeria Air.

Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika disclosed this in a media briefing on Friday in Abuja.

He said ET scored 89 percent out of 100 as regards the technical bid and 15 out 20 as regards financial bid.

Mr Sirika said the Request for Proposal (RFP) under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Act, governed by Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission(ICRC) regarding the Nigeria Air was now completed.

He said, “After a careful, detailed and ICRC governed selection process, Ethiopian Airlines (ET) Consortium has been selected as preferred bidder, offering an owner consortium of 3 Nigerian investors.

“The Nigerian investors are MRS, SAHCO and the Nigerian Sovereign Fund (46%), FGN owning 5% and ET 49%. The consortium has been subject to a due diligence process.

“The contract will be negotiated between consortium and FGN leading to a Full Business Case (FBC) which will be expected to be approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC). We expect this process to take 6-8 weeks.”

The minister said the national carrier would be launched with three Boeing 737-800 in a configuration very suitable for the Nigerian market.

Mr Sirika said Nigeria Air will be launched with a shuttle service between Abuja and Lagos to establish a new comfortable, reliable and affordable travel between the two major Nigerian Airports.

“The first aircraft is ready to arrive in Abuja for the further work and NCAA inspection, demo flights and audit as part of the AOC requirements.

“In time, two others will arrive to complete the required three aircraft for a new AOC holder. The interim executive team has prepared, with the support of FAAN.

“The team has arranged for Terminal C at the Abuja Airport and finalised a contract with MMA 2 terminal in Lagos, for the operation of an initial shuttle between Lagos and Abuja,” he said.

The Operations Control Centre (OCC) at the Abuja Airport would act as Headquarters of the airline.

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