The Galapagos Islands has seen a record rise in penguins, flightless cormorants


The population of Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants, two species endemic to the islands, has seen a record increase, according to a new study.

The Galapagos penguin is one of the smallest species of penguins in the world, measuring up to 35 centimetres, and the cormorants on the islands are the only type to have lost their ability to fly – but they have developed diving skills.

“The number of cormorants has reached a record number, according to historical data dating back to 1977, while the number of penguins is at the highest since 2006,” Galapagos National Park, which carried out the census, said in a statement on Friday. 

A flightless cormorant perched on a lava rock on Fernandina Island in the Galapagos Islands in 2008.

LightRocket

The population of Galapagos penguins, the only ones living on the Earth’s equator, increased from 1,451 in 2019 to 1,940 in 2020, it added.

Flightless cormorant numbers increased from 1,914 to 2,220 over the same period.

The study was carried out by the park and the Charles Darwin Foundation in September with the main colonies present on the Isabela and Fernandina islands and on the Marielas islets, to the west of the archipelago classified as a natural heritage site.

Paulo Proano, Ecuadorian minister of environment and water, said the census results reflect the “good state of health of the population” of birds in the archipelago, located some 1,000 kilometres off the Ecuadorian coast, according to the park.

The park said the presence of the La Nina climatic phenomenon, which helps to provide more food for the birds, has contributed to the increase in their populations.

Another factor was the coronavirus pandemic, which has limited disturbances to nesting areas because of the drop in tourism, the park added.

The islands, which served as a natural laboratory for the English scientist Charles Darwin for his theory of the evolution of species, takes its name from the giant tortoises that live there.



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Russia Surpasses 17K Coronavirus Cases in New One-Day Record


Russia confirmed 17,340 new coronavirus cases Friday, setting a new one-day record as the country grapples with a second wave of the virus.

This is the first time that Russia has confirmed more than 17,000 Covid-19 infections in a single day.

Friday’s increase pushes the overall number of Covid-19 cases in Russia to 1,480,646, or 1% of the country’s population. Russia has the world’s fourth-highest number of Covid-19 cases.

Moscow, the epicenter of Russia’s outbreak, confirmed 5,478 new Covid-19 cases.

Russia’s national coronavirus information center said 283 people died from the disease Friday, a decrease from the record 317 Covid-19 deaths confirmed Wednesday. 

Russia’s overall Covid-19 death toll based on aggregated daily figures from regional crisis centers stands at 25,525.

Monthly statistics published by Russia’s state statistics agency Rosstat place the real number of coronavirus deaths at 45,663 between April and August, the latest available month, with a mortality ratio of 4.6% against the global rate of 3-4%. 

Russia has reported record numbers of new infections and deaths over the past week as disease experts warn that its regions could see a second wave that is 10 times worse than the first.

President Vladimir Putin pledged to avoid returning to strict lockdown measures like those Russia imposed in spring despite the record-setting rise in new Covid-19 cases. Authorities have introduced targeted measures at what they deem to be coronavirus hotspots to slow the spread of the disease.



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US election debate: Joe Biden renews attack on Donald Trump’s Covid record as they meet for final time



Joe Biden renewed his attacks on Donald Trump‘s handling of the coronavirus pandemic during the final debate of the presidential election campaign.

“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain president of the United States of America,” Democratic candidate Mr Biden told the event in Nashville, Tennessee.

The encounter represented one of the Republican president Mr Trump’s last remaining opportunities to reshape a campaign dominated by the virus.


Mr Trump defended his approach to the outbreak and claimed the worst of the pandemic was in the past.

Mr Biden took aim at the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic (REUTERS)

Cover has killed more than 221,000 people in the United States and devastated the economy.

“We’re rounding the corner,” said the president, who has played down the virus for months. “It’s going away.”

Mr Biden faulted Mr Trump for avoiding responsibility for the pandemic.

“I take full responsibility,” Mr Trump responded. “It’s not my fault that it came here, it’s China’s fault.”

Mr Trump claimed during the debate that a vaccine was close to ready, saying approval would be announced within “weeks” before acknowledging that it was not a guarantee.

Most experts, including administration officials, have said a vaccine is unlikely to be widely available until mid-2021.

The first segment of the debate was far more civil than the candidates’ first clash in September, when Mr Trump’s constant interruptions and exchanges of personal insults derailed the evening.

As a result, each candidate’s microphone on Thursday was switched off while his opponent made a two-minute introductory statement on a topic.

Even after the microphones were turned back on during discussion periods, however, the candidates largely allowed each other to speak.

Mr Biden and the president also argued over their tax returns.

Responding to unfounded allegations from Trump during Thursday night’s debate that he received funds from Russian sources, Mr Biden said:”I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life.”

Pointing his finger at Mr Trump, he asked: “What are you hiding?” and told him to “release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption.”

Mr Trump responded that he would like to release his returns “as soon as we can” but reiterated his excuse that he’s under audit, a claim he’s made since he first ran for president in 2016.

The president is not actually barred from releasing the documents while they’re under audit.

Mr Trump also responded to the news that he paid just $750 in taxes in 2017, claiming that he was told he “prepaid tens of millions of dollars,” and that the $750 was a “filing fee.”

But Mr Biden again called on the US leader to release proof. “Show us,” Mr Biden said. “Stop playing around.”

On Thursday, the commission that oversees the debate removed plexiglass barriers separating the candidates after Mr Trump provided proof he had tested negative for Covid-19, a source familiar with the matter said.

The approximately 200 attendees had their temperatures checked before entering the venue, and everyone was required to wear a medical mask at all times.

As well as coronavirus, debate topics were to include race relations, climate change and national security.

This page is being updated



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Hong Kong fines Goldman Sachs record US$350 million over 1MDB failings


HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s markets watchdog on Thursday (Oct 22) fined Goldman Sachs’s Asian business US$350 million for its role in Malaysia’s multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal, the largest single fine ever levied by the regulator in the Asian financial hub.

The Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) said serious lapses and deficiencies in management controls at Goldman Sachs (Asia) LLC had contributed to the misappropriation of US$2.6 billion raised by the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.

1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) raised the funds in three bond offerings in 2012 and 2013.

A Goldman Sachs spokesman said the Wall Street bank would issue a statement in due course.

READ: Goldman Sachs’ US settlement over Malaysia 1MDB scandal to lift dark cloud

The 1MDB scandal has been a costly and long-running sore for the US investment bank, though there are signs it may be close to drawing a line under the affair.

In July, Goldman agreed to pay US$3.9 billion to settle Malaysia’s criminal probe and this week it is expected to agree to pay more than US$2 billion to settle US charges over its role in the scandal.

Malaysian and U.S. authorities estimate US$4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB in an elaborate scheme that spanned the globe and implicated high-level officials in the fund, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Goldman staff and others.

The three bond offerings, which raised a combined US$6.5 billion, were arranged and underwritten by UK-based Goldman Sachs International, with work conducted by deal team members in multiple jurisdictions, who shared the revenue generated.

The SFC said Goldman Sachs Asia, the bank’s Hong Kong-based compliance and control hub for the region, had significant involvement in the origination, approval, execution and sales process of the three bond offerings.

The bank’s Asia hub had earned US$210 million from the offerings, the largest share among the various Goldman entities.

READ: Former Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy charged with illicit lobbying on 1MDB, China

“This enforcement action is the result of a rigorous, independent investigation conducted by the SFC,” said Ashley Alder, the SFC’s chief executive.

RED FLAGS

The 1MDB bond deals were obtained for Goldman by its banker Tim Leissner, who in August 2018 admitted that he had conspired with Malaysian financier Jho Low and others to pay bribes and kickbacks to Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials to obtain and retain the business from 1MDB for the bank.

Low denies any wrongdoing.

US court documents show Low was rejected as a private wealth management client on several occasions as his source of wealth could not be verified, resulting in a potential money laundering risk.

Nonetheless, Goldman’s regional and firm-wide committees that vetted the bond offerings accepted Leissner’s false assertions that Low had no roles in the bond offerings without making further inquiries, the SFC said.

“Apart from the involvement of Low, there were a number of red flags present in the bond transactions which should have called for a closer examination of the corruption and money laundering risks involved,” its statement of disciplinary action said.

READ: Ex-Goldman Sachs banker seeks review of 1MDB charges in Malaysia

These included the fact that the amount raised far exceeded the actual needs of 1MDB, and the sovereign wealth fund’s willingness to pay high fees and repeated emphasis on confidentiality and speed of execution, the SFC said.

“Despite the scrutiny of the bond transactions by various regional and firm-wide committees, … these issues had not been looked into in-depth and properly addressed before the deals were approved.”

Thursday’s fine from the SFC dwarfed the previous record of US$51 million, which it levied on a private banking unit of HSBC in 2017, and on UBS last year.



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Jones set to equal McCaw’s world record


Alun Wyn Jones has been hailed for “a fabulous achievement” after earning another selection for Wales which will see him equal the world Test match appearance record when he captains his country against France in Paris on Saturday.

The 35-year-old second-rower plays his 148th game for both Wales and the British and Irish Lions, matching the mark set by New Zealand’s double World Cup-winning skipper Richie McCaw.

Paying tribute to Jones, head coach Wayne Pivac said: “It is a fabulous achievement. He epitomises what a great rugby player is all about.

“He is a true professional on and off the field, and a gentleman of the game. On the field, he leads by example and you can’t ask more of your captain. We are very privileged here in Wales to have him.”

Wales’ first match for seven months sees a return for centre Jonathan Davies, who has not played Test rugby since suffering a knee injury during the World Cup last year, while Pivac has also named uncapped Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit and Ospreys hooker Sam Parry among the replacements.

Wales play their delayed Guinness Six Nations game against Scotland next week, and Pivac will use the match at Stade de France as full-blown preparation for that encounter.

The side is packed with experience, including a 96th cap for wing George North, while scrum-half Rhys Webb edges out Gareth Davies to make a first Wales start in almost three years, and Dan Biggar wears the number 10 shirt.

In the pack, hooker Ryan Elias takes over from shoulder injury victim Ken Owens, with Cory Hill partnering Jones in the second row and Aaron Wainwright starting at blindside flanker in tandem with back-row colleagues Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau.

Pivac said: “The players are excited. It has been a long time and we can’t wait for Saturday.

“We have six matches this autumn, and the game against France helps us get back into our stride, international rugby-wise.”





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Goldman Gets Record 1MDB Fine; CEO Solomon Faces Clawback


(Bloomberg) — Goldman Sachs Group Inc. will pay a record foreign bribery penalty in the U.S. and will enter a guilty plea for the first time ever for its role in the plundering of Malaysia’s 1MDB investment fund.

A Goldman subsidiary in Malaysia pleaded guilty to a single charge for its role in a scheme to divert billions of dollars raised for economic development in Malaysia. The Wall Street giant will also force Chief Executive Officer David Solomon and his predecessor Lloyd Blankfein to return some of their compensation, according to a person briefed on the matter.

The parent company avoided conviction in a deal known as a deferred-prosecution agreement, according to a court proceeding in Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday. That designation is a win for Goldman Sachs, because a conviction might have risked losing some institutional clients that are restricted from working with financial firms with criminal records.

The bank will pay more than $2.3 billion in the plea deal, U.S. prosecutor Alixandra Smith said, the largest penalty in U.S. history for a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In all, Goldman’s penalties will exceed $5 billion globally.

The U.S. penalty credits more than $1 billion in fines paid to other U.S. agencies and foreign authorities. In the U.S., that includes $400 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission, $150 million to New York’s Department of Financial Services and $154 million to the Federal Reserve. After disgorgements of Malaysia profits, the Justice Department places the total U.S. penalty at roughly $2.9 billion.

From about 2009 to 2014, the bank’s Malaysia unit “knowingly and willfully agreed to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by corruptly promising, and paying bribes to foreign officials in order to obtain and retain business for Goldman Sachs,” the bank’s general counsel, Karen Seymour, told U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie in a video hearing on Thursday.

Goldman to Claw Back Pay From CEO Solomon, Blankfein on 1MDB

The deal, which was expected, concludes one of the biggest bank probes inherited by the Trump administration. It holds Goldman Sachs to account for its role in raising $6.5 billion for 1MDB, much of which U.S. authorities say was stolen by people connected to the country’s former prime minister and diverted into high-end art and real estate, a super yacht and the Hollywood movie “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

In July, Goldman Sachs agreed to a settlement with Malaysia that included a payment of $2.5 billion and an unusual provision that the bank would guarantee that the Asian nation would recoup an additional $1.4 billion from 1MDB assets seized around the world. Malaysia dropped criminal charges against the bank as part of that deal.

The case against the Wall Street firm focuses on its fundraising work in 2012 and 2013 for the state-owned fund formally known as 1Malaysia Development Bhd. Goldman’s investment-banking group, led at the time by Solomon, collected $600 million from the bond sales.

Much of the case centered on Jho Low, a Malaysian financier whom prosecutors accused of orchestrating the theft. Low, who has professed his innocence, remains at large. But the probes also drew in several Goldman Sachs employees.

Goldman’s former Southeast Asia Chairman Tim Leissner pleaded guilty in the U.S. to conspiring to launder money. He told a judge he bribed foreign officials to get bond deals and conspired with “several other employees of Goldman Sachs” to hide the theft, bribe payments and money-laundering from others at the bank. He’ll be sentenced in January.

A Leissner subordinate, Roger Ng, was charged with conspiring with Low to launder money. He has denied wrongdoing.

U.S. documents referred to other top Goldman officials, though not by name. At least one top Goldman executive met with Low after the bank’s compliance department had raised flags about him, according to the U.S. government.

Another executive, Leissner’s boss in Asia at the time, was briefed on a plan to pay bribes and kickbacks to ensure 1MDB’s fundraising proceeded, according to previous government filings. That executive matches the description of Andrea Vella, who has since left the bank. Vella agreed to a lifetime ban from banking by the Federal Reserve without admitting or denying wrongdoing.

The 1MDB scandal set off investigations in Asia, the U.S. and Europe. Authorities on three continents spent years tracking funds that allegedly flowed from 1MDB into ornaments of wealth. Goldman Sachs’s Asian unit was fined $350 million by Hong Kong’s financial regulator and 96.6 million pounds ($126 million) to the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority, the agencies said Thursday.

Goldman Sachs will seek U.S. Labor Department permission before the Malaysia unit’s December sentencing to continue handling retirement funds for Americans, its lawyers said. Banks must secure a waiver from the department to continue handling such funds after an admission of criminal conduct.

The 1MDB saga devolved into a plot to pressure the U.S. to go easy on some of the alleged looters, casting a wider web that has embroiled a prominent Republican fundraiser, an official in the Justice Department and even a former Fugees rap star.

MORE:

Inside Goldman’s Five-Day Race to Seal a 1MDB Deal With MalaysiaGoldman’s 1MDB Charges Dropped by Malaysia After SettlementHow Malaysia’s 1MDB Scandal Shook the Financial World: QuickTakeEx-Trump Fundraiser Broidy Pleads Guilty to Illegal LobbyingNajib Sentenced to 12 Years in Jail in Former 1MDB Unit Case

(Updates with U.S. penalties totaling $2.9 billion)

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©2020 Bloomberg L.P.



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Obama rips into Trump’s record in 2020 campaign trail debut


Former U.S. president Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail on Wednesday, launching a blistering attack on Donald Trump with less than two weeks to go before the Republican president’s election day face-off with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Speaking at a drive-in rally in Philadelphia on behalf of Biden, his former vice-president, Obama offered his fiercest critique yet of his successor, taking aim at Trump’s divisive rhetoric and his track record in the Oval Office.

“He hasn’t shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself,” Obama said.

Obama, who governed for two terms and remains one of the most popular figures in the Democratic Party, blasted Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, noting that the president himself had fallen victim to the virus.

“Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us,” he said. “He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself.”

Former U.S. president Barack Obama speaks at a drive-in rally for Democratic nominee Joseph Biden on Wednesday in Philadelphia. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Obama’s appearance filled a gap left by Biden, who has stayed at home in Delaware since Monday for meetings and preparation ahead of his Thursday debate with Trump in Nashville, Tenn.

The drive-in rally was held in the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park, the baseball stadium in Philadelphia, with the city’s skyline visible in the distance. It was the largest event of its kind that the Biden campaign has staged amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Almost 280 vehicles were spread throughout the lot, with big screens placed to allow attendees to see the former president.

With a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll showing Biden with just a 4-percentage-point edge in Pennsylvania, Obama warned Democrats against complacency.

“We’ve got to turn out like never before,” he said. “We cannot leave any doubt in this election.”

Four years ago, Obama participated in a rally in Philadelphia with then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton the day before the election, only to see Trump narrowly take the state. The Biden campaign considers winning there a top priority.

Americans are voting early at a record pace this year, with 42 million ballots cast both via mail and in person ahead of the Nov. 3 election on concerns about the coronavirus and to make sure their votes are counted.

The record early vote so far represents about 30 per cent of the total ballots cast in 2016, according to the University of Florida’s U.S. Elections Project.

After Obama spoke, Trump held a rally in North Carolina, another battleground state where opinion polls show a tight race.

Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, was also in North Carolina to mobilize voters in Asheville and Charlotte.

Fundraising appearances

Even though Wednesday marked Obama’s 2020 campaign debut, his support has been essential for Biden. He has appeared at joint fundraisers with Biden and Harris, and his network of well-connected former aides has been instrumental in helping the campaign outpace Trump in bringing in donations.

The Biden campaign is hopeful that Obama will commit to more events before the election.

The last days of campaigning are taking place amid a surge in new cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations in battleground states, including North Carolina and Pennsylvania but also Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.

Pennsylvania has averaged 1,500 new cases a day over the past week, a level it has not seen since April, according to a Reuters analysis. North Carolina is averaging 2,000 new cases a day over the past week, its highest level ever. The virus has claimed the lives of more than 221,000 people in the United States.

Polling shows a majority of voters are disappointed in the way Trump has handled the pandemic, which he has repeatedly said would disappear on its own.

Biden and Trump are scheduled to meet in their second and final debate on Thursday night, giving the Republican an opportunity to change the trajectory of a race that Biden is leading in national polls.

People listen as Obama speaks at Citizens Bank Park. (Matt Slocum/The Associated Press)



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Russia reports new record of daily COVID-19 cases


BEIJING, Oct. 19 (Xinhua) — The following are the updates on the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

– – – –

TEHRAN — Iran has joined the COVAX initiative, which aims at working with vaccine manufacturers to provide world safe and effective vaccines, Iran’s Ministry of Health and Medical Education announced on Monday.

The ministry has signed the letter for joining the COVAX initiative and has officially become a part of it, Heidar Mohammadi, director-general of Drugs and Controlled Substances of the ministry, was quoted as saying by official IRNA news agency.

– – – –

BEIJING — The global COVID-19 caseload surpassed the milestone of 40 million on Monday, reaching 40,040,902, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

The number of victims who have succumbed to the disease worldwide totaled 1,113,750, the data showed.

– – – –

SYDNEY — Another 24 COVID-19 positive crew members have been diagnosed aboard a livestock carrier docked at Fremantle Port in the state of Western Australia (WA), local authorities confirmed on Monday.

So far 25 crew members have tested positive for the virus and more cases could be reported in the coming days, given there are still 52 crew members on board, the state’s Premier Mark McGowan said.

– – – –

MOSCOW — Russia registered 15,982 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, setting a new all-time high as the pandemic resurges, the country’s COVID-19 response center said Monday.

Russia’s cumulative number of coronavirus cases has grown to 1,415,316, including 24,366 deaths and 1,075,904 recoveries, the center said in a statement.

– – – –

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection (CHP) reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, taking Hong Kong’s total tally to 5,256.

Among the newly reported cases, 14 had a travel history during the incubation period. The remaining case was epidemiologically linked with local case, the CHP said.



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