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North Korea warns US of ‘powerful’ response to allied drills

North Korea warns US of ‘powerful’ response to allied drills

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry criticized the United States for expanding joint military exercises with South Korea that it claims are practice for a potential invasion, and it warned Tuesday of “more powerful follow-up measures” in response.

The statement from the ministry came as the U.S. and South Korea conduct aerial drills involving more than 200 warplanes, including their advanced F-35 fighter jets, as they step up their defense posture in the face of North Korea’s increased weapons testing and growing nuclear threat.

North Korea has ramped up its weapons demonstrations to a record pace this year, launching more than 40 ballistic missiles, including developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles and an intermediate-range missile fired over Japan. The North has punctuated those tests with an escalatory nuclear doctrine that authorizes preemptive nuclear attacks in loosely defined crisis situations.

The U.S. and South Korea have resumed large-scale military drills this year after downsizing or suspending them in past years as part of efforts to create diplomatic space with Pyongyang and because of the pandemic.

The United States and South Korea’s “Vigilant Storm” air force drills, which are to continue through Friday, came after South Korea completed its annual 12-day “Hoguk” field exercises that officials say also involved an unspecified number of American troops.

North Korea’s latest statement came just days after the country fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, extending a barrage of launches since late September. Some of those launches have been described by the North as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets.

North Korea has said its testing activities are meant as a warning amid the joint military drills. But some experts say Pyongyang has also used the drills as a chance to test new weapons systems, boost its nuclear capability and increase its leverage in future dealings with Washington and Seoul.

In comments attributed to an unidentified spokesperson, the North Korean Foreign Ministry statement said the military drills exposed the United States as the “chief culprit in destroying peace and security.” It said the North was ready to take “all necessary measures” to defend against outside military threats.

“If the U.S. continuously persists in the grave military provocations, the DPRK will take into account more powerful follow-up measures,” the spokesperson said, using North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The statement did not specify what those measures could be.

South Korean officials have said North Korea could up the ante in coming weeks by detonating its first nuclear test device since September 2017, which could possibly take the country a step closer to its goals of building a full-fledged nuclear arsenal capable of threatening regional U.S. allies and the American mainland.

In recent weeks, North Korea has also fired hundreds of shells in inter-Korean maritime buffer zones that the two Koreas established in 2018 to reduce frontline military tensions. North Korea has said that firing was in reaction to South Korean live-fire exercises at land border areas. The rival Koreas exchanged warning shots Oct. 24 along their disputed western sea boundary, a scene of past bloodshed and naval battles, as they accused each other of violating the boundary.

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International

Guatemalan Leader, Deputy Jailed For Fraud

A Guatemalan court on Wednesday sentenced former President Otto Perez to 16 years in prison, finding him guilty of leading a massive customs fraud scheme while in office.

Perez, who was forced to resign in 2015, was found guilty of racketeering and fraud targeting the customs system, Judge Irma Valdes said as she read out the sentence.

Perez was sentenced to eight years on each count.

His former vice president Roxana Baldetti received the same sentence.

A United Nations-backed anti-corruption body revealed several scandals in Guatemala before it was shut down in 2019 by then-President Jimmy Morales after it began investigating him.

One of its key successes was uncovering a multimillion-dollar scheme to cheat Guatemala’s customs duty system, which ultimately led to Perez’s resignation.

Those involved in the scheme – known as “La Linea” (The Line) – received bribes of some $3.5 million, according to investigators, who estimate that Guatemala was defrauded out of almost $10 million in tax revenue.

After the sentence was handed down Perez, 72, told reporters, “I truly feel frustrated, I feel disappointed.”

He said he would appeal the ruling.

Sixteen other people involved in the scam were convicted during the sentencing and 11 others were acquitted.

“The ‘La Linea’ case is one of the most symbolic and is a milestone in Guatemalan history,” director of Transparency International’s local chapter, Citizen Action, Edie Cux, told AFP.

“It is important that in some way the people of Guatemala have justice and that the case does not go unpunished,” she added.

(AFP)

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International

Trump Organization Convicted Of Tax Fraud

Donald Trump’s real estate company was convicted on Tuesday of carrying out a 15-year-long criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities, adding to the legal woes facing the former U.S. president as he campaigns for the office again in 2024.

The Trump Organization – which operates hotels, golf courses, and other real estate around the world – was found guilty of paying personal expenses for top executives including former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, and issuing bonus checks to them as if they were independent contractors.

The company faces up to $1.6 million in fines after being convicted on all charges, including scheming to defraud tax authorities, conspiracy and falsifying business records. Trump was not charged in the case.

Justice Juan Merchan, who presided over the trial in state court in New York, set a sentencing date for Jan. 13.

While the fine is not expected to be material for a company of the Trump Organization’s size, the conviction could complicate its ability to do business.

Weisselberg, 75, testified as the government’s star witness as part of a plea deal that calls for a sentence of five months in jail.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office prosecuted the case, called the verdict “very just.”

“The former president’s companies now stand convicted of crimes,” Bragg said in the New York courthouse after the verdict, speaking of the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation, the two units of the Trump Organization which were convicted.

Asked if he regretted not charging Trump in the case, Bragg did not respond.

He has said that the office’s investigation into Trump is continuing.

(Reuters)

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International

Forbes says Elon Musk Is No Longer World’s Richest Man

Twitter owner and Tesla (TSLA.O) boss Elon Musk briefly lost his title as the world’s richest person on Wednesday, according to Forbes, following a steep drop in the value of his stake in the electric-car maker and a $44 billion bet on the social media firm.

Bernard Arnault, the chief executive of luxury brand Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH (LVMH.PA), and his family briefly took the title as the world’s richest, but were back at No. 2 with a personal wealth of $185.3 billion, according to Forbes.

Musk, who has held the top spot on the Forbes list since September 2021, has a net worth of $185.7 billion. Musk took over the title from Amazon.com (AMZN.O) founder Jeff Bezos.

Tesla shares, which have lost more than 47% in value since Musk made his offer to buy Twitter earlier this year, were down 2.7%.

Musk’s net worth dropped below $200 billion earlier on Nov. 8 as investors dumped Tesla’s shares on worries the top executive and largest shareholder of the world’s most valuable electric-vehicle maker is more preoccupied with Twitter.

Tesla has lost nearly half its market value and Musk’s net worth has dropped by about $70 billion since he bid for Twitter in April. Musk closed the deal for Twitter in October with $13 billion in loans and a $33.5 billion equity commitment.

Besides Tesla, Musk also heads rocket company SpaceX and Neuralink, a startup that is developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect the human brain to computers.

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