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Trump lawyer Dershowitz, other star lawyers begin work for Azeri-Turkish billionaire




A star-studded team of global lawyers have taken on the case of Azeri-Turkish billionaire Mubariz Mansimov Gurbanoglu, saying they will investigate possible human rights abuses against the shipping magnate who has been held on terrorism charges in an Istanbul prison since March 17.

Alan Dershowitz, a high-profile defender of US President Donald Trump who argued that Trump should not be impeached at his February trial, is among the lawyers working with Gurbanoglu, according to a statement by London law firm Omnia Strategy.

Nick Muzin, a former Qatar lobbyist who previously worked for Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Tim Scott, R-S.C., as well as Cherie Blair, are working with Dershowitz. They will have their work cut out for them. 

The 52-year-old Gurbanoglu is accused of links to Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based Sunni cleric Turkey holds responsible for the July 2016 attempt to bloodily overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Thousands of people including journalists, judges and wealthy industrialists have been jailed on flimsily evidenced charges of conspiring with Gulen, part of a broader campaign to pursue and pressure dissidents of all hues.

“We are repeatedly seeing the misuse of criminal justice systems to target legitimate business executives who fall out of favor. This is driven by a lack of respect for fundamental rights and enabled by a dangerous weakening of the rule of law. This case raises many troubling questions regarding prosecutorial and judicial independence and arbitrary detention. We will investigate this fully and seek answers,” said Blair.

Adam Smith Anthony, a partner at Omnia Strategy, confirmed in a telephone interview with Al-Monitor that Gurbanoglu has not yet been charged. “We will be examining all and any human rights violations to do with his detention and ensuring that a fair trial is accorded and due process is observed.” He declined to elaborate on the substance of the case.

Gurbanoglu protests his innocence, saying he is the victim of a conspiracy led by Rovnag Abdullayev, the president of Azerbaijan’s state oil company, SOCAR. In a March 18 statement, SOCAR denied those claims.

Gurbanoglu owns one of the world’s largest tanker fleets and is embroiled in a multi-billion-dollar arbitration dispute with SOCAR. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and SOCAR, the largest private investor in Turkey, have close ties to Erdogan. The Turkish leader allegedly used to have close business ties with Gurbanoglu, documented in detail by the investigative journalists collective The Black Sea.

There are several theories as to why Gurbanoglu is being held. One is that it’s meant to pressure him to drop the case against SOCAR. Another is that he’s being shaken down for Turkey’s increasingly cash-strapped economy.  

By retaining Dershowitz, Gurbanoglu may as a last resort be hoping to leverage his connections to Trump, who ostensibly would intervene with Erdogan on the businessman’s behalf. Gurbanoglu attended Trump’s inauguration and was the first customer when Trump Towers opened in Istanbul in 2009, snapping up eight apartments, according to The Black Sea.

Asked whether his work would include lobbying, Dershowitz said in a text message, “I will of course register if I do anything requiring registration,” and “At the moment I simply helped recommend the European legal team.”

Muzin told Al-Monitor in a text message that he is “working for him as a lawyer” and is “not doing any work in the US.” Muzin said he is doing “no advocacy work at this time” and “if that changes, I would register.”

Either way, as Trump himself discovered when he was seeking the release of North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson, also held on dubious Gulen-linked charges, Erdogan is a tough nut. It took a volley of threatening tweets coupled with sanctions for him to crack and free Brunson after nearly two years of detention.

Diplomatic pressure and the European Court of Human Rights, whose rulings are binding for Turkey, have failed to sway Ankara in many high-profile cases, notably those of journalist Ahmet Altan and philanthropist Osman Kavala. The pair have been rotting in prison on a cocktail of improbable terrorism charges with new ones fabricated to keep them there, rights groups say.

It will not have helped that Omnia Strategy cited The Stockholm Center for Freedom as a source for Turkey’s bad behavior in its press release. The group is run by exiled journalists who are overtly sympathetic to Gulen. 

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In Pictures: Family in cave home faces Israeli eviction




Ahmed Amarneh’s home, its wooden door leading into cushion-lined rooms, is not the first Palestinian residence in the occupied West Bank to receive a demolition notice from Israel.

But it may be the first built inside a cave that Israel has threatened to destroy.

Amarneh, a 30-year-old civil engineer, lives with his family in the northern West Bank village of Farasin, where Israel insists it must approve any new residential construction and can tear down homes built without permits.

“I tried twice to build [a house], but the occupation authorities told me it was forbidden to build in the area,” said Amarneh.

The Oslo peace accords of the 1990s gave the Palestinians self-rule in parts of the West Bank. However, about 60 percent of the territory dubbed Area C, where Farasin is located, remains under full Israeli civil and military control.

The United Nations considers Area C as occupied Palestinian territory. But Israel has increasingly taken land there for the construction of Jewish settlements – considered illegal under international law.

‘Didn’t make the cave’

Convinced he would never get Israeli approval to build a home in his village, Amarneh set his sights on a cave in the foothills overlooking Farasin.

Amarneh said he figured that because the cave is a natural formation, Israel could not possibly argue it was illegally built, while the Palestinian Authority agreed to register the land in his name.

Amarneh sealed the mouth of the cave with a stone wall and installed a wooden door at its centre.

He fashioned a kitchen, a living room, and sleeping areas for himself, his pregnant wife, and their young daughter. There is even space for guests.

After living there for a year and a half, he received a demolition notice from the Israeli authorities in July along with 20 other Palestinian families in Farasin.

The Israeli military branch responsible for civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank, COGAT, said demolition notices were served to some Farasin residences because of “structures that were illegally built, without the necessary permits and approvals”.

Amarneh said he was “surprised” to learn that he had built anything illegally.

“I didn’t make the cave. It has existed since antiquity,” he said, holding his young daughter in his arms.

“I don’t understand how they can prevent me from living in a cave. Animals live in caves and are not thrown out. So let them treat me like an animal and let me live in the cave.”

Israeli bulldozers

Arab residents established the village of Farasin in 1920, said local council head, Mahmud Ahmad Nasser.

It was abandoned during the 1967 War, the year the Israeli occupation of the West Bank began. But from the 1980s, former residents began to return to the area. Nasser put its current population at about 200.

Farasin looks less like a village than a small collection of houses spaced widely apart.

The PA officially recognised the community of Farasin in March, but the coronavirus crisis has prevented it from providing electricity to the area, the local council said.

COGAT indicated in April it might suspend some scheduled demolitions because of the pandemic.

But, according to the Israeli anti-settlement campaign group B’Tselem, Israel demolished 63 Palestinian structures in June.

Roughly 450,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank, alongside some 2.7 million Palestinians.

Farasin residents have feared the arrival of Israeli bulldozers for weeks, Amarneh said.

Recently soldiers came and told Palestinian people “they had one minute to collect all their things” and leave their house, he said.

“They told us, without any shame, to leave the village.”

Amarneh is fearful that his family’s cave home could be the next target, adding that his wife and daughter are “in shock”.

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At least six prisoners killed in Mogadishu prison shoot-out




Operation to restore order in the prison complex has been completed, according to state media [File: Tobin Jones/AFP]

Operation to restore order in the prison complex has been completed, according to state media [File: Tobin Jones/AFP]

At least six prisoners were killed and six others wounded in a shoot-out inside a prison in the Somali capital, Mogadishu on Monday.

There were conflicting reports of how the prisoners, all said to be members of the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab, got hold of the weapons.

“There was heavy shooting inside the prison where some inmates managed to get hold of firearms and started shooting the guards,” security officer Abdi Dhere told the AFP news agency.

“It is not clear how the prisoners ended up having access to guns.”

Another security source said one of the prisoners snatched a rifle from a guard.

Two prison guards were killed in the attack, General Mahad Abdirahman Aden, the country’s prison chief, told national TV.

Information ministry spokesman Ismael Mukhtar Omar said the situation in the prison was now back to normal.

“All those inmates who were involved in the fighting were killed,” he said in a statement.

Hassan Kulmiye, a police officer, told DPA news agency the prisoners were able to capture parts of the complex and it took security forces nearly two hours to end the siege.

A general view shows the Mogadishu central cell in Mogadishu

Prisoners were able to capture parts of the complex and it took security forces nearly two hours to end the siege, a security officer said [File: Feisal Omar/Reuters]

Somalia has been embroiled in deadly violence since 1991, when clan fighters overthrew longtime leader Siad Barre and then turned on each other.

Since 2008, al-Shabab has been fighting to overthrow the internationally-recognised central government and establish its rule based on its own interpretation of Islamic law.

Al-Shabab was driven out of the capital in 2011 by Somali forces backed by African Union troops, but has continued to wage war against the government, carrying out regular attacks.

Last month, Somalia’s military chief escaped unhurt when an al-Shabab suicide attacker drove a bomb-laden car into his convoy in Mogadishu.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Pompeo ‘cleared of wrongdoing’ over arms sales to Saudi, UAE




US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been cleared of wrongdoing in a disputed arms sale to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies, according to his office, although the report on the internal investigation has not yet been released.

Pompeo was accused of abuse of power after he used an obscure emergency procedure to ram through $8.1bn in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan in May of last year.

At the time, members of Congress had been blocking weapons sales to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, angry about the huge civilian toll from their air campaign in Yemen, as well as human rights abuses such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

On Monday, a senior official at the Department of State, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said an internal probe concluded that the department had “acted in complete accordance with the law”.

The investigation by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General “found no wrongdoing in the administration exercise of the emergency authorities that are available under the arms export control act”, the official added.

The comments – made before the report was made public – came after President Donald Trump abruptly fired then-Inspector General Steve Linick, who was looking into Pompeo’s certification, in May.

Linick, whose dismissal is being investigated by Congress, was also reportedly investigating allegations that Pompeo and his wife used staff for personal favours such as walking their dog.

He was succeeded by Stephen Akard, who resigned from his post last week after recusing himself from the arms sales investigation. The final report was completed by Akard’s deputy, Diana Shaw.

Linick was the fourth government inspector general removed by the Republican president in recent months, raising concern among Democrats and some of his fellow Republicans in Congress about curtailment of oversight.

In a statement, Representative Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was concerned that the State Department had discussed the report before it was released.

“The people briefing the press were the subjects of the IG’s probe, not the report’s authors. This obvious pre-spin of the findings reeks of an attempt to distract and mislead,” Engel said.

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