Leaked records open a 'Pandora' box of financial secrets

Hundreds of world leaders, powerful politicians, billionaires, celebrities, religious leaders and drug dealers have been hiding their investments in mansions, exclusive beachfront property, yachts and other assets for the past quarter-century, according to a review of nearly 12 million files obtained from 14 firms located around the world.

The report released Sunday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists involved 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries. It's being dubbed the "Pandora Papers" because the findings shed light on the previously hidden dealings of the elite and the corrupt, and how they have used offshore accounts to shield assets collectively worth trillions of dollars.

The more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of the secret accounts include Jordan's King Abdullah II, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso, and associates of both Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The billionaires called out in the report include Turkish construction mogul Erman Ilicak and Robert T. Brockman, the former CEO of software maker Reynolds & Reynolds.

Many of the accounts were designed to evade taxes and conceal assets for other shady reasons, according to the report.

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Jordan's king denies impropriety in luxury home purchases

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan's King Abdullah II on Monday denied any impropriety in his purchase of luxury homes abroad, citing security needs for keeping quiet about the transactions that are reportedly worth more than $100 million. He said no public funds were used.

The comment by the Royal Palace comes a day after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported that hundreds of world leaders, powerful politicians, billionaires, celebrities, religious leaders and drug dealers have been hiding their investments in mansions, exclusive beachfront property, yachts and other assets for the past quarter-century.

The report is based on a review of nearly 12 million files obtained from 14 firms located around the world, the consortium said. The report is being dubbed the "Pandora Papers" because the findings shed light on the previously hidden dealings of the elite and the corrupt, and how they have used offshore accounts to shield assets collectively worth trillions of dollars.

For instance, the investigation found advisers helped Jordan's king set up at least three dozen shell companies from 1995 to 2017, helping the monarch buy 14 homes worth more than $106 million in the U.S. and the U.K. One was a $23 million California ocean-view property bought in 2017 through a British Virgin Islands company. The advisers were identified as an English accountant in Switzerland and lawyers in the British Virgin Islands.

Abdullah denied any impropriety, citing security needs for keeping the transactions quiet and saying no public funds were used.

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Response time questioned in Southern California oil spill

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Some residents, business owners and environmentalists questioned whether authorities reacted quickly enough to contain one of the largest oil spills in recent California history, caused by a suspected leak in an underwater pipeline that fouled the sands of famed Huntington Beach and could keep the beaches there closed for weeks or longer.

Booms were deployed on the ocean surface Sunday to try to contain the oil while divers sought to determine where and why the leak occurred. On land, there was a race to find animals harmed by the oil and to keep the spill from harming any more sensitive marshland.

People who live and work in the area said they noticed an oil sheen and a heavy petroleum smell Friday evening.

But it wasn't until Saturday afternoon that the Coast Guard said an oil slick had been spotted and a unified command established to respond. And it took until Saturday night for the company that operates the pipeline believed responsible for the leak to shut down operations.

Rick Torgerson, owner of Blue Star Yacht Charter said on Friday evening "people were emailing, and the neighbors were asking, 'do you smell that?'" By Saturday morning boats were returning to the marina with their hulls covered in oil, he said.

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Taliban-style security welcomed by some, feared by others

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — It wasn't 7 a.m. yet and already the line outside the police station's gates was long, with men bringing their complaints and demands for justice to Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers. 

Something new they immediately found: The Taliban fighters who are now the policemen don't demand bribes like police officers did under the U.S-backed government of the past 20 years. 

"Before, everyone was stealing our money," said Hajj Ahmad Khan, who was among those in line at the Kabul District 8 police station on a recent day. "Everywhere in our villages and in government offices, everyone had their hands out," he said.

Many Afghans fear the harsh ways of the Taliban, their hard-line ideology or their severe restrictions of women's freedoms. But the movement does bring a reputation for not being corrupt, a stark contrast to the government it ousted, which was notoriously rife with bribery, embezzlement and graft. 

Even residents who shudder at the potential return of punishments - such as chopping off the hands of thieves - say some security has returned to Kabul since the Taliban swept in on Aug. 15. Under the previous government, gangs of thieves had driven most people off the streets by dark. Several roads between cities are again open and have even been given the green light for travel by some international aid organizations.

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Can Democrats hold together? Biden's agenda depends on it

WASHINGTON (AP) — It's one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's favorite sayings, a guidepost for Democrats in trying times: "Our diversity is our strength. Our unity is our power."

But as Democrats try to usher President Joe Biden's expansive federal government overhaul into law, it's the party's diversity of progressive and conservative views that's pulling them apart.

And only by staying unified does their no-votes-to-spare majority have any hope of pushing his rebuilding agenda into law.

Biden will set traveling to Michigan on Tuesday to speak directly to the American people on his vision: It's time to tax big business and the wealthy and invest that money into child care, health care, education and tackling climate change — what he sees as some of the nation's most pressing priorities. 

Together, Biden, Pelosi and other Democrats are entering a highly uncertain time, the messy throes of legislating, in what will now be a longer-haul pursuit that could stretch for weeks, if not months, of negotiations. 

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Nobel Prize honors discovery of temperature, touch receptors

STOCKHOLM (AP) — The Nobel Prize in the field of physiology or medicine has been awarded to U.S.-based scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian.

They were cited for their discovery of receptors for temperature and touch.

The winners were announced Monday by Thomas Perlmann, secretary-general of the Nobel Committee.

Patrik Ernfors of the Nobel Committee said Julius, 65, used capsaicin, the active component in chili peppers, to identify the nerve sensors that allow the skin to respond to heat.

Patapoutian found separate pressure-sensitive sensors in cells that respond to mechanical stimulation, he said.

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Japan's Parliament elects former diplomat Kishida as new PM

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's parliament on Monday elected Fumio Kishida, a former moderate turned hawk, as prime minister. He'll face an economy battered by the pandemic, security threats from China and North Korea and leadership of a political party whose popularity is sagging ahead of a fast-approaching crucial national election. 

With his party and its coalition partner holding a majority in both houses, Kishida won by a comfortable margin against Yukio Edano, head of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. Kishida and his new Cabinet will be sworn in at a palace ceremony later in the day.

He replaces Yoshihide Suga, who resigned after only one year in office as his support plunged over his government's handling of the pandemic and insistence on holding the Tokyo Olympics as the virus spread.

Kishida is expected to make a policy speech in Parliament on Friday but is looking to dissolve the lower house to hold elections on Oct. 31, Japanese media reported. Observers see the early date as a move to take advantage of his government's fresh image to rally support.

Jun Azumi, senior Constitutional Democratic Party lawmaker, criticized Kishida over his plan to dissolve the lower house in just over a week. "It's like a delicatessen that forces customers to buy without a chance to try samples."

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What's old is new again: Justices back at court for new term

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is beginning a momentous new term with a return to familiar surroundings, the mahogany and marble courtroom that the justices abandoned more than 18 months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Abortion, guns and religion all are on the agenda for a court with a rightward tilt, including three justices appointed by President Donald Trump.

The justices will meet in person for arguments Monday, although Justice Brett Kavanaugh will participate remotely from his home after testing positive for COVID-19 late last week. Kavanaugh, who was vaccinated in January, is showing no symptoms, the court said. All the other justices also have been vaccinated.

With a nod to the persistence of the virus, the court remains closed to the public. Only lawyers involved in the cases and reporters who regularly cover the court will be on hand, and anyone not arguing will have to wear a mask. The court is also requiring negative COVID-19 tests from lawyers and reporters who want to be in the courtroom.

Lawyers who test positive will be able to present their arguments via telephone, the court said. That's the way lawyers had been arguing before the court because of the pandemic.

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New Zealand admits it can no longer get rid of coronavirus

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand's government acknowledged Monday what most other countries did long ago: It can no longer completely get rid of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a cautious plan to ease lockdown restrictions in Auckland, despite an outbreak there that continues to simmer.

Since early in the pandemic, New Zealand had pursued an unusual zero-tolerance approach to the virus through strict lockdowns and aggressive contact tracing. 

Until recently, that elimination strategy had worked remarkably well for the country of 5 million, which has reported just 27 virus deaths. 

While other nations faced rising death tolls and disrupted lives, New Zealanders went back to workplaces, school yards and sports stadiums safe from any community spread.

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COVID vaccine mandate takes effect for NYC teachers, staff

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City teachers and other school staff members are supposed to be vaccinated against COVID-19 when the bell rings Monday morning, in one of the first school district mandates in the country requiring employees to be inoculated against the coronavirus.

Mayor Bill de Blasio gave a final warning to the city's roughly 148,000 public school staffers on Friday, saying unvaccinated employees would be placed on unpaid leave and not be allowed to work this week. The city planned to bring in substitutes where needed.

Implementing the mandate smoothly may be a challenge for de Blasio, a Democrat who has boasted of the city's record of keeping school buildings open during most of the last school year when other districts went to all-remote instruction. New York City is not offering a remote option this year.

De Blasio said 90 percent of Department of Education employees had received at least one vaccine dose, including 93 percent of teachers and 98 percent of principals, as of Friday.

The vaccination mandate in the nation's largest school system does not include a test-out option, but does allow for medical and religious exemptions. It was supposed to go into effect last week but was delayed when a federal appeals court granted a temporary injunction. An appeals panel reversed that decision three days later.

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