Charges laid over failed plane bombing

The man accused of attempting to blow up an American airliner on Christmas day has been indicted on six counts.

Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, faces charges including the attempted murder of the other 289 passengers and crew and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

The explosives were concealed in his underpants which he tried to detonate as the plane was approaching Detroit from Amsterdam. People sitting near him managed to restrain him and extinguish the flames.

Since then, US intelligence has been heavily criticised for a series of blunders that led to Abdulmutallab managing to board the plane despite being on a list of suspected terrorists.

It was also revealed the explosive device had been provided by al Qaeda in Yemen. In response, the US has named several countries it considers high risk and whose nationals will be subjected to tighter security checks.

Full body scanners are set to become common place in many international airports.

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Chirac ordered to stand trial

He may be one of France’s most popular former presidents, but Jacques Chirac has a rendezvous with justice.

Two years after leaving the Elysee Palace, the 76-year-old has been ordered to stand trial on embezzlement charges dating back to when he was the mayor of Paris.

This is the first time a former French head of state has been put on trial on such charges.

When Chirac handed over power to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 he lost immunity from prosecution. Sarkozy has refused to comment on the latest development.

French constitutional expert Guy Carcassonne said: “This demonstrates once and for all that under the current constitutional system French presidents have immunity, but they don’t have impunity … if there is a court case, and of course we can normally start a case according to common law once they leave the Elysee.”

Judge Xaviere Simioni made her ruling over accusations that Paris City Hall gave contracts for non-existent jobs as political favours. Chirac denies any wrongdoing. His office says he is “confident and determined” to prove before a court that none of the jobs in question were fictitious.

Observers say it is still not certain that Chirac will go on trial, because previously the Paris public prosecutor had previously recommended that the case be dropped. He now has five days to appeal the judge’s order.

It is reported that nine other people have also been ordered to stand trial alongside Chirac.

He was Mayor of Paris from 1977 to 95, and then served as president until 2007. Any hopes he might have had for a stress-free retirement, working for his charitable foundation, seem to have been dashed. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Berlusconi rejects immunity ruling as ‘farce’

The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has dismissed the loss of his legal immunity as a politically-motivated farce. Italy’s highest court said that a law passed by Berlusconi’s government protecting him from legal action violates the constitution. Berlusconi retorted that the ruling was driven by politics:

euronews channel-“We have a minority of leftist ‘red’ judges who use the law in their political struggle,” he said. “72 per cent of the media in Italy is left-wing. The cases against me they want to re-open are utterly false. I am going to have to spend some of my working day ridiculing my accusers. But these sort of things give me a buzz, as they do all Italians. Viva Italia, viva Berlusconi!”

The Constitutional Court ruled that the immunity legislation violates the principle that all Italians are equal under the law. The prime minister’s lawyers had argued that he should be considered ‘first above equals’ but the judges rejected that.

The controversial law halted all cases against Berlusconi, including one where he is accused of bribing a British lawyer to give false testimony to protect his business dealings.

The leader of the opposition, Dario Franceschini said:

“The Constitutional Court has simply re-established a principle that had been violated: that all Italian citizens are equal before the law. Everyone is equal before the law, even the most powerful.”

The ruling comes as Berlusconi watches his until-now good approval ratings slide because of a series of sex scandals, including prostitutes being invited to parties at his home. One of the girls went public with explicit recordings of her time spent with the prime minister.

Berlusconi no longer above the law

Italy’s top court has ruled that a law giving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi immunity from prosecution is unconstitutional.

euronews channel-The law was one of Berlusconi’s first acts after he formed his latest government last year.

Today’s verdict paves the way for two trials against him relating to false accounting and bribery to be re-opened. It could also spell trouble for his government.

A judicial source at the Constitutional Court told Reuters news agency that the 15 judges decided the legal immunity violated the principle that all citizens are equal before the law. They added that immunity would require a change to the constitution, not just a law passed in parliament.

A spokesman for Berlusconi has said the verdict is politically-motivated and that the prime minister would stay on in office.

Roman Polanski denied bail by Swiss authorities

Film-maker Roman Polanski has been denied bail by Swiss authorities ahead of his possible extradition to the United States.

euronews channel-The Oscar-winning director has been detained in prison since the end of September. His lawyers had appealed to the Federal Office of Justice to reconsider his arrest on a US extradition warrant. The 76-year-old fled America in 1978 from an underage sex charge, on the eve of sentencing.

“In our view, there is still a very high risk that he will flee and that a release on bail or other measures after a release cannot guarantee Polanski’s presence in the extradition procedure,” explained Folco Galli, a spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry.

But fears that Polanski would flee Switzerland have been discounted by his lawyer. He denied his client was a sex criminal and said he was the victim of his own fame. Polanski, he added, was willing to provide guarantees that he would remain in the country.

The director arrived in Switzerland last month to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival.

His victim, Samantha Gailey, sued Polanski in December 1988 alleging sexual assault, infliction of emotional distress and seduction.

In the light of today’s ruling, authorities urged a Swiss court to reject another appeal by Polanski’s legal representatives.

Italy’s top court reviews Berlusconi’s legal immunity

Does the immunity from prosecution that Silvio Berlusconi enjoys violate Italy’s constitution?

euronews channel-That is the question the country’s top court is deliberating in a politically-sensitive hearing that could put the prime minister back in the dock.

As premier, Berlusconi is protected under a law passed soon after his return to power last year.

Defending the legislation, the conservative media mogul’s lawyer Gaetano Pecorella said he expected the court would find it constitutional and would examine the case from a judicial and not a political point of view.

But for Berlusconi’s critics, the law was tailor-made to put a stop to legal proceedings against him.

Expressing confidence in the court, centre-left opposition member of parliament Rosy Bindi said the government would do well to remember that in a democratic country all citizens are equal before the law.

Prosecutors in frozen legal proceedings against Berlusconi asked the Constitutional Court to re-examine the immunity law. Facing accusations including bribery, tax fraud and false accounting, he has denied any wrongdoing.

Journalist Guy-Andre Kieffer still alive, says prosecutor

A man claiming he was a soldier in Ivory Coast’s army said Wednesday that the Franco-Canadian journalist Guy-Andre Kieffer, who went missing from the West African country in 2004, was killed by members of the first lady’s entourage in a botched interrogation.

But in apparent response to the new testimony, Ivorian state prosecutor Raymond Tchimou told the news agency AFP that the journalist had been taken out of the country and is still alive. Tchimou offered no other explanations or details on the journalists purported whereabouts.

In a press conference on Thursday, Alexis Gublin, lawyer of the missing journalist’s brother called the Tchimou’s statements “unacceptable” and demanded evidence that would support the prosecutor’s statement.

Guy-Andre Kieffer was last seen alive in April 2004, in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan. At the time, the journalist was investigating corruption in the cocoa industry. When he went missing, two French judges took on the case.

The judges have long suspected, based on the accounts of key witnesses, that people close to the president could be implicated in Kieffer’s disappearance, a theory now strengthened by the latest testimony to be admitted into the docket.

Based on the former soldier’s testimony to the French judges, Kieffer was seized and held within the presidential compound in 2004, and then killed by accident.

“By word of mouth we learnt that [Kieffer] had been shot by accident,” the man stated. He said that the crime was perpetrated by the guards of first lady Simone Gbagbo, but that she herself had no knowledge of the incident.

Simone Gbagbo has always maintained she never saw Guy André Kieffer, a story she stuck to when she herself was questioned in the affair.