Rates likely to be held on strong outlook

Soaring business conditions have increased chances the Reserve Bank will hold rates this year.


Overall business conditions rose from +8.0 to +12 points in March, according to the National Australia Bank’s Monthly Business Survey, released Tuesday.

NAB chief economist Alan Oster said the index was above the long-run average of +5.0 and at its highest level since 2008.

“The lift in business conditions to these levels not only suggests that Australia is withstanding the uncertainty offshore, but that the recovery in the non-mining sectors of the economy has in fact stepped up a gear this month,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the measure of business confidence lifted to +6 index points in March, from +3 points the previous month.

Mr Oster said that provided some assurance that gains in conditions would be sustained.

“Tighter capacity, good profitability and improving confidence levels all raise the prospects for a ramping up of business spending and employment ahead,” he added.

ANZ economists said the survey showed economic uncertainty of early 2016 was fading and the economy was in solid shape.

They don’t expect the federal election to dampen momentum either.

“While consumers remain cautious given the backdrop of the forthcoming budget and election, the business sector appears unfazed by these concerns,” the ANZ economists said in a statement.

CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian said the improving outlook for Australian businesses increased chances that rates would stay on hold this year.

“Clearly the latest business survey suggests that current interest rate settings are appropriate and that further stimulus is not required,” he said.

JP Morgan economist Ben Jarman agreed, noting the survey’s strong expectations for the labour market.

“This helps the RBA stay on hold, particularly since, taken at face value, several of these survey readings now flag a clear bias to a lower unemployment rate through this year,” Mr Jarman said.

New admins ‘best way forward’ for Arrium

Arrium’s major lenders have teamed with the worker’s union to install new administrators to the struggling steel and mining group.


The banks and the Australian Workers’ Union successfully applied in a federal court on Tuesday to have KordaMentha installed in place of Grant Thornton.

The AWU said the appointment of KordaMentha was made possible through collaboration with the banks and represented the best way forward for all parties.

“The AWU looks forward to working constructively with KordaMentha as the new administrator, engaging in a business-as-usual approach to Arrium’s operations, and ensuring we work in the interests of our members,” the union said in a statement.

But South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis said the move had created more uncertainty for 1600 Arrium workers in Whyalla and thousands more across the nation.

The government had been in advanced negotiations with Grant Thornton’s Paul Billingham to ensure Arrium and its creditors could continue to trade, Mr Koutsantonis said.

“Having forced the issue of voluntary administration, we are now witnessing the banks shamefully squabbling about the choice of administrator,” he told parliament.

“This further disruption by the Australian banks and the continued use of Whyalla’s future as a bargaining chip is distressing for those who are affected by the ongoing uncertainty and constant speculation.”

The SA government would work constructively with the new administrators and other stakeholders, Mr Koutsantonis said.

Grant Thornton said it would do all it could to support the incoming administrators in the transition and expected the impact of the change would be minimal.

Managing partner Paul Billingham said in a statement that the creditors have the right to appoint the firm they wish to represent them in the administration.

“When it became clear that the major stakeholders wished to see a change to a firm not appointed by Arrium, we agreed for the benefit of the process to support an early change as opposed to waiting until the first creditors’ meeting,” he said.

“We believe there is little doubt that the voluntary administration will provide an opportunity to restructure the Australian steel and mining business starting in Whyalla, and also improve the successful East Coast operations.”

Medical staff health at risk from X-rays

Heart procedures that involve the use of X-rays may dramatically increase the risk of health problems ranging from cataracts to cancer suffered by medical staff, a study has found.


An X-ray technique called fluoroscopy is routinely used to obtain real-time moving images of the heart. Two common procedures that employ it are coronary angiography, for diagnosing heart problems, and angioplasty to widen narrowed arteries.

Fluoroscopy is used so often that over time the effects of radiation exposure on busy health professionals can be considerable.

Over a 30-year career a cardiologist might receive the dose equivalent of 2,500 to 10,000 chest X-rays.

Researchers have now recorded a catalogue of disorders that are significantly more likely to be suffered by doctors, nurses and technicians involved in fluoroscopy-assisted heart procedures over a typical period of 10 years.

Compared with health workers not exposed to radiation, they were 2.8 times more likely to have a skin abnormality, 7.1 times more likely to develop orthopaedic back, neck or knee problems, and 6.3 times more likely to suffer from cataracts.

Those who had been doing the work for more than 16 years were also three times more likely to develop cancer.

In addition, exposed staff had increased rates of high blood pressure and cholesterol, but relatively low rates of heart disease.

Dr Maria Andreassi, from the National Research Council Institute of Clinical Physiology in Pisa, Italy, who led the study, said: “Occupational doses of radiation in cardiovascular procedures guided by fluoroscopy are the highest doses registered among medical staff using X-rays.

“Interventional cardiologists and electrophysiologists have a two to three times higher annual exposure than that of radiologists, as they are closer to the radiological source and experience radiation exposure with the patient, whereas diagnostic radiologists are generally shielded from radiation exposure.”

NRL confident of resolving clubs dispute

ARL Commission chairman John Grant is adamant the governing body will resolve a bitter dispute with clubs after revelations a cashflow issue will impact NRL handouts at the end of the year.


Grant on Thursday admitted the NRL would have problems committing to increased club payments beyond November, as the game awaited the new broadcast revenue to kick in.

It was initially believed an extra 30 per cent of next year’s salary cap – believed to be around the $9 million mark – would be given to the 16 franchises as part of their club grants.

However, club chief executives and chairpeople were told on Wednesday at a scheduled meeting at league headquarters that the governing body would struggle to meet the timeline.

Grant, who was absent from the meeting, denied it was a funding shortfall.

“We’ve got an acknowledged issue with the NRL’s cashflow and that primarily exists because the advances we’ve had from broadcasters have been paid to clubs,” he said on Thursday.

“We and the clubs need to manage our way through this. I’ve got no doubt we’ll get a resolution. It’s clear the first attempt at doing that wasn’t successful, but we’ll get a resolution.”

The developments overshadowed news the NRL and clubs had agreed on a cap to be presented to the players’ union, as negotiations continued on a collective bargaining agreement.

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said he made it clear to club executives on Wednesday that their financial resources were thinning but the league were working to solving their dilemma.

Some reports suggested payments would be delayed until the 2023 season, and the NRL would need a bank loan to help payments.

“First thing I’d say is we had a very productive day yesterday with the club chairs and CEOs. It was a really good meeting, talked about a range of issues,” Greenberg said.

“It’s very clear that there’s going to be a cashflow issue for us to deal with. The solution rests with us on trying to push forward some proposals.

“It’s exactly what I said yesterday and it’s exactly what I’m doing today.”

At UN, US warns Venezuela could turn into another Syria

At least 43 people have died during weeks of clashes between government forces and opposition demonstrators angry at President Nicolas Maduro’s handling of an economic and political crisis.


“This isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse, and what we are trying to say is the international community needs to say ‘respect the human rights of your people’ or this is going to go in the direction we’ve seen so many others go,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters following Security Council talks.

The United States requested the closed-door consultations on Venezuela despite objections from some council members who insisted the crisis was not a threat to international security.

Haley said the US decision to raise Venezuela at the Security Council was aimed at conflict prevention and to ensure that the top UN body was paying attention to the crisis.

A woman looks on at the aftermath of a looted supermarket in Capacho, Venezuela following a wave of anti-government protests.AFP

“We’ve been down this road — with Syria, with North Korea, with South Sudan, with Burundi, with Burma. We’ve been down this road,” Haley said.

“Why not get in front of this? Why not try to stop a problem before it starts?”

Opposition demonstrators have held daily protests since April 1, angry at what they see as moves to strengthen Maduro’s hold on power.

Related readingVenezuela rejects US ‘meddling’

Rejecting the US action at United Nations, Venezuela accused the United States of meddling in its domestic affairs.

“Venezuela will resolve its own internal problems. We will do it ourselves,” Ambassador Rafael Ramirez told reporters after the meeting. “We will not accept interference.”

Earlier, Haley said in a statement that Venezuela was “on the verge of a humanitarian crisis” and urged the international community to work together “to ensure Maduro ends this violence and oppression and restores democracy to the people.”

Opposition activists holding candles protest against the deaths of 43 people in clashes with the police during weeks of demonstrations.AFP

Uruguay’s Ambassador Elbio Rosselli, who holds the council presidency this month, said the Organization of American States (OAS) and other regional bodies were best-placed to help address the crisis.

The Caracas government however has decided to pull out of the OAS, which is due to hold a ministerial meeting on Venezuela on May 31.

Speaking at a news conference in Strasbourg, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed “great concern” over the “extremely difficult situation” in Venezuela and said he was in contact with regional leaders.

Making his first public remarks on the crisis, Guterres said mediation was “indispensable” to resolve the crisis.

Related reading

Could President Trump be impeached?

A string of scandals hit the White House this week: first it was the FBI director being fired, then allegations of Trump requesting a declaration of loyalty from James Comey, as well as requesting the FBI halt investigations into Michael Flynn’s links to Russia.


Most recently Trump was accused of disclosing classified information to Russian officials, and now a prosecutor has been appointed to investigate Trump’s 2016 election campaign links to Russia.

This string of controversial events has got people wondering whether it’s all enough to have the president impeached.


Dougal Robinson, from the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, told SBS World News that despite the latest round of gaffes from the President, impeachment is unlikely.

“Only a handful of Democrats have spoken about impeachment, the vast majority of Democrats have refrained at this point from mentioning the word impeachment,” Mr Robinson said.

“Impeachment requires a two-thirds majority in the US Senate, so that means that every Democrat and about 20 of the 52 Republican senators would have to vote against their own president.”

“We’re a long long way from that point right now.”

Historically, there has never been a US president removed from his position through impeachment proceedings.

But there were close calls when Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 were impeached by the House of Representatives, although both were acquitted in the Senate.

There was also Richard Nixon who resigned in 1974 to avoid impending impeachment after the Watergate scandal.

But there is another way Trump could be removed from the top job.

At the time there was no legal framework to remove the president and promote the vice president in a case of mental incapacity.

As a result, congress created the 25th Amendment which laid out a framework to replace the President if they were ever deemed mentally unfit for the job.

Lecturer in politics at the University of Melbourne, Raymond Orr, told SBS World News this latest intelligence leak to Russia by Trump could lead to the 25th Amendment being considered.

“This, with a number of other very serious gaffes make it possible that congress could enact something called the 25th Amendment to the Constitution,” Dr Orr said.

“Which allows Congress to declare Mike Pence to become president because Donald Trump is considered disabled, because he doesn’t know what to say, or when to say it and has a loose relationship with the facts and the world around him.

“That’s very unlikely but it’s possible.”

Dr Orr said this latest incident would not be enough to justify the 25th Amendment, but rather it may result from an accumulation of controversial actions by President Trump.

He sited events like Trump warning North Korea that an “armada” of navy ships were advancing towards them, when in fact the navy fleet was heading in the opposite direction.

“That is an incredibly potentially dangerous thing to say,” Dr Orr said. “He doesn’t know what’s going on and actually says it.”


Clinics to catch abdominal cancers needed

Australia needs government funded speciality diagnostic clinics to ensure the earlier detection of pancreatic and other “forgotten cancers”, says Cancer Council Australia.


Pancreatic cancer is 1 of the 10 most common cancers in both men and women in Australia.

Like lung cancer – Australia’s biggest cancer killer – it’s five year survival rate is poor.

Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Sanchia Aranda, says we still don’t have a systematic way of knowing why some people survive cancer and others don’t because the research hasn’t been funded.

“At present five-year survival for lung cancer is just 16 per cent, compared with 68 per cent for all cancers combined. Some of those survivors will be individuals who may have been lucky enough to get an early diagnosis and optimal treatment.

“The same random outcomes are likely to apply to other poor-survival cancers, particularly those in the abdominal area such as pancreatic, adrenal and kidney cancers.”

One of the reasons five-year breast cancer survival in Australia is at 90 per cent, she says, is that screening and treatment are well defined.

In a submission to a Senate Select Committee holding public hearings on Thursday, the Cancer Council and Clinical Oncology Society of Australia called on the government not to “loose sight” of existing technologies within the health system that can give today’s sufferers of hard-to-detect-and-treat cancers a better chance of survival.

“A starting point to learn from successes in breast cancer care could be to set up a pilot study, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), with people reporting intra-abdominal symptoms, which often get dismissed, being referred to a diagnostic clinic for monitoring,” Prof Aranda said.

The clinics would be staffed by general physicians and specialist nurses who would be able to diagnose quickly.

At the moment some patients can wait for up to six months for a cancer diagnosis and then it’s often too late, says Prof Aranda.

“One of the challenges with some of the poor survival cancers, that is those that are in the abdomen, is that there are many different types of specialists a patient could be referred to,” Prof Aranda told AAP.

“They also go into public clinics without a clear sense of urgency, so not knowing where to send patients is a difficulty for GPs if they don’t exactly know the organ, and then there are patients that end up waiting for diagnosis in cues and public clinics.

“The idea here would be that the GP would identify the need to exclude cancer as a diagnosis. Where at the moment our system sort of treats cancer as a diagnosis of last resort,” she said.

James Hardie’s annual profit rises 13%

Building materials supplier James Hardie has posted a 13 per cent rise in full-year profit largely due to strong housing construction in its core market, the US.


The company also benefited from a decrease in asbestos claims in 2016/17.

James Hardie made a net profit of $US276.5 million ($A371.8 million) in the year to March 31, as sales rose 11 per cent to $US1.92 billion.

Sales of fibre cement – the group’s flagship product that’s used in walls, ceilings, floors and fences – were up 12 per cent in the US.

Housing market activity in Australia and New Zealand underpinned a 22 per cent rise in earnings from its fibre cement business outside of the US, including Asia and the Middle East.

“Asia Pacific had a good year – the only bump in the road was the Philippines,” chief executive Louis Gries said, in reference a drop in sales in the Philippines due to imports from competitors.

Its Australian operations were strong, with improvements in volume, price, costs and the efficiency of its new cement plant in Queensland, he said.

The performance of the Australian business is expected to be steady in the 2017/18 year, Mr Gries said.

Modest growth in the US housing market is also expected to continue into the current financial year.

A $US38.6 million decrease in the value of James Hardie’s estimated asbestos liabilities also boosted the company’s bottom line.

Claims for mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure, were down six per cent to 373 in 2016/17.

There were two large mesothelioma settlements worth more than $US1 million in the year.

“This is significantly lower than our expectations,” the company said.

Total claims for all asbestos-related compensation fell three per cent from the prior year to 557, and the average settlement dropped 10 per cent in value.

Large claim settlements amounted to $US3.3 million ($A4.4 million).

This is down from $US9.9 million ($A13.3 million) in the prior year and significantly lower than the company’s forecast of $US18 million ($A24 million) in claims.

CitiGroup analysts said there was a risk James Hardie’s earnings in the near-term could be dented by a moderation in the recovery of the US housing market, and with “Australian housing rolling over.”

James Hardie shares dropped $1.68, or 7.8 per cent, to $19.90.


* Net profit up 13pct to $US276.5m

* Sales up 11pct to $US1.92b

* Final dividend down 1 US cent to 28 US cents

Scullion rounds up remote NT school kids

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion never liked school as a kid, but he’s given parents at a remote indigenous Northern Territory community a wake up call about the importance of education.


The senator has spent the morning rounding up sleepy children for their school day playing truancy officer by knocking on doors and speaking to parents at Yirrkala in Arnhem Land.

“I’m here to make sure your kid gets to school. He doesn’t like it does he? Nor did I. I used to be a bit of a runner,” Minister Scullion said.

Every morning youngsters in 75 indigenous communities across the nation are encouraged out of bed and into their classrooms as part of the government’s truancy program.

A group of remote school attendance officers – all indigenous members of their local community – stroll the streets before a bus follows the same route and picks them up.

Yirrkala School co principal Katrina Hudson praised the scheme, stating attendance rates have recently risen from 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

“Some weeks last term we were getting 75 per cent, which in mainstream schools sounds low but for this school it’s a huge improvement,” she said.

The strategy started in 2014, employing officers to support parents by helping with lunches, uniforms, homework and after-school care.

“They’re spending time with families to create those relationships and trust,” Ms Hudson said.

Co-principal Meookiyawuy Ganambarr says the respected officers represent different clans to ensure the children will respond.

“We need to work together as a community,” she said.

“We’re all connected with each other in everyday life – people talk and share stories.”

Canberra hopes to close the gap in school attendance by the end of 2018, but none of the targets around indigenous early education enrolments or truancy are on track.

Ms Ganambarr said one of the biggest problems dropping attendance numbers is ceremonies, which take children away from their homes for long periods.

“There’s lots of cultural obligations in the communities, there’s funerals happening weekly,” she said.

But Senator Scullion says that’s no longer an excuse for non-attendance and kids should be finding other schools temporarily.

Since 2013 the federal government has also rolled out a program to dock the welfare payments of NT parents who don’t oversee their kids’ attendance.

Ms Hudson called for a holistic interagency approach, stating many kids with learning difficulties still face barriers to education even if they get through the classroom door.

New chair, ex-Foster’s boss at Bellamy’s

Embattled infant formula maker Bellamy’s has continued to rebuild its board and leadership, electing Hong Kong-based investor John Ho as its new chairman and appointing former Foster’s boss John Murphy as a director.


Mr Ho, an Australian citizen with business interests in China and Australia, was appointed as a Bellamy’s director in mid-April.

He replaces Rod Peters who was elected to the Bellamy’s board and subsequently took the chair after shareholders instigated a near clean-out of the board at a extraordinary general meeting in February and installed replacements.

Bellamy’s chairman at the time, Rob Woolley resigned just before the meeting.

Mr Ho is the founder and chief investment officer of Hong Kong-based investor Janchor Partners, which has a stake of 7.01 per cent in Bellamy’s.

“Mr Ho’s deep understanding of the Australian and and Chinese consumer and health-related markets and expertise in corporate governance has proved to be a valuable addition to the board,” Bellamy’s said in a statement on Thursday.

The company said Mr Ho had waived his entitlement to the chairman’s remuneration.

Veteran food and beverage industry executive Mr Murphy has been appointed to the board as of Thursday and will also take up the role of deputy chairman and chair of the audit and risk committee.

Mr Murphy is a former managing director of brewer Fosters, a former managing director of Coca-Cola Amatil, and former chief executive of Visy Packaging and Recycling for Australasia.

Rodd Peters will stay on the Bellamy’s board as a director.

Bellamy’s also said on Thursday that director Patria Mann had resigned.

Ms Mann was the only Bellamy’s director to survive the shareholder revolt in February.

The board changes follow Bellamy’s confirmation in mid-April of Andrew Cohen as chief executive.

Mr Cohen had been acting in the CEO role since January 11, replacing long-term chief executive Laura McBain, who resigned after a torrid time for the company.

Tasmania-based Bellamy’s endured a massive share price plunge in December and January after it flagged a significant drop in sales in the key China market and twice downgraded its full-year earnings forecast.

Bellamy’s is also facing two class actions – one filed by lawyers Slater & Gordon and another by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers – from shareholders seeking to get back some of the losses from the massive share price fall.

Shares in Bellamy’s were 15 cents, or 2.8 per cent, lower at $5.21 on Thursday.

Budget ‘victory’ for Labor: Albanese

Anthony Albanese has declared the federal budget an “overwhelming victory” for Labor, in a departure from Bill Shorten’s assessment.


However, Mr Albanese insists his view is consistent with that of Mr Shorten.

Mr Shorten has repeatedly dismissed media descriptions of the Turnbull government’s second budget as “Labor-lite”.

“Make no mistake, this is not a Labor budget,” Mr Shorten said in his budget reply speech last week.

Mr Albanese gave an alternative take in a speech to the Transport Workers Union in Fremantle on Thursday.

“Budget 2017 was an overwhelming victory for the Australian Labor Party and the broader labour movement,” Mr Albanese said.

“After years of negativity and culture wars, the coalition used the budget to offload much of its ideological baggage and embrace Labor values on some core issues – at least at a superficial level.”

The Labor frontbencher and former leadership challenger said the government had “finally accepted” Australians supported universal healthcare, needs-based school funding and the national disability insurance scheme was a “critical reform”.

However, while the coalition had “raised the ideological white flag”, their words had not been matched with money.

“For example, they say they embrace needs-based education funding but they are still cutting investment by $22 billion over the next decade,” he said.

“They say they support Medicare. But the budget locked in billions of dollars in cuts and maintained the freeze on the Medicare rebate in the short term.

“They say they understand the importance of infrastructure investment. Yet the budget cuts it by $1.6 billion in this financial year alone, with investment to fall off a cliff over the next four years.”

Mr Albanese told reporters in Perth later on Thursday what he had said was in line with Mr Shorten’s view, and the speech had been shown to the opposition leader’s office before it was delivered.

“I think what I said is perfectly consistent with what Mr Shorten said,” Mr Albanese said.

“They (the coalition) are trying to capture Labor ideas because they don’t have any of their own.”

Asked whether he backed Mr Shorten to lead the party to the next election, he said: “Absolutely. We are a team and I’m committed to doing the best I can on infrastructure, transport, regional development, cities and tourism.”

Son of key tax official one of nine arrested in fraud case

Michael Cranston’s 30-year-old son Adam and eight other people have been arrested over a $165 million tax fraud investigation.


Adam Cranston was charged with conspiracy to defraud the government.

The Australian Federal Police have described it as one of the biggest white-collar fraud investigations in Australian history.

Almost 300 AFP officers executed raids across Sydney, Wollongong and the New South Wales Southern Highlands.

It was the culmination of an eight-month sting, codenamed Operation Elbrus, led by the AFP with assistance from the Australian Taxation Office.

Among those arrested was Adam Cranston, apprehended at his flat in the affluent beach suburb of Bondi.

He is the son of one of Australia’s most senior tax officials, Michael Cranston.

AFP deputy commissioner of operations Leanne Close says it is a significant fraud investigation, with the proceeds funding lavish lifestyles.

“Some of the assets and proceeds of crime seized include at least $15 million in cash, which is being held in personal and business company accounts; 25 motor vehicles, which include luxury, vintage and racing vehicles; 18 residential properties; 12 motorbikes; in excess of 100 bank accounts and share-trading accounts; two aircraft; firearms, jewellery, artwork, vintage wines, and also at least $1 million we located in a safe-deposit box.”

The AFP alleges the conspirators ran a legitimate payroll company.

The money accepted by the company would allegedly be paid into secondary companies, run by what Ms Close describes as “straw directors” as a front.

“What we alleged is that the people involved in Operation Elbris, the syndicate members, retained effective control of those companies. And as part of their contractual obligations to those legitimate payroll-company clients, these tier-2 companies are required to remit payments to what you call pay-as-you-go, withholding-tax payments to the ATO. Through our investigations, we found that only part of the tax obligations were paid. So, as you can see, it’s a significant defrauding of the Commonwealth, where we are alleging $165 million was diverted to illegal gains.”

The AFP alleges the group used the lavish lifestyles to help hide the funds.

ATO deputy commissioner Michael Cranston was issued with a court-attendance notice.

It is alleged he publicly abused his position as a senior official of the Commonwealth.

Police say he could have been unwittingly involved.

Two other ATO employees have also been suspended while the organisation carries out an internal investigation.

The ATO’s acting commissioner, Andrew Mills, explains.

“The people being investigated have been suspended without pay. I cannot overstate the seriousness of these matters. Australians must have a tax administration that they can trust, and the people of the ATO must be of the utmost integrity and good judgment. This is even more important for those in leadership positions.”

Michael Cranston will front the Downing Centre Court on June 13.

Police say he faces five years’ imprisonment if found guilty.

His 24-year-old daughter Lauren Anne was also charged and will appear at Narellan court next month.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has hailed the raids as a win for the government.

“This is a major government crackdown, and what the events today, with this major fraud bust today, demonstrate is that, if you’re a crook and you’re seeking to defraud the taxpayer, we’ll find you, and we’ll track you down. And we’ll make sure that you’re brought to justice. And what this is showing is that the system works when it comes to tracking down tax cheats.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also praised the authorities, but he sidestepped suggestions the government was to blame for allowing such fraud to occur.

“Our police, our agencies will catch them. Catch them, prosecute them and bring the full weight of the law down to bear on them. We have zero, zero tolerance, zero tolerance, for this type of conspiracy, this type of fraud, this type of abuse of public office.”


Trump willing to engage North Korea: Seoul

US President Donald Trump has told South Korea’s presidential envoy that Washington is willing to try to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis through engagement, but under the right conditions, South Korea’s foreign ministry says.


Trump has said “a major, major conflict” with North Korea is possible and all options are on the table but that he wanted to resolve the crisis diplomatically, possibly through the extended use of economic sanctions.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who took office last week, has campaigned on a more moderate approach towards the North but he has said it must change its attitude of insisting on arms development before dialogue can be possible.

Moon’s envoy to Washington, South Korean media mogul Hong Seok-hyun, said Trump spoke of being willing to use engagement to ensure peace, Hong said in comments carried by television on Thursday.

“The fact that Trump said he will not have talks for the sake of talks reiterated our joint stance that we are open to dialogue but the right situation must be formed,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck in a regular media briefing.

South Korea and the United States agreed during a visit to Seoul by Trump’s national security advisers this week to formulate a “bold and pragmatic” joint approach, Cho added.

The North has vowed to develop a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead that can strike the mainland United States, saying the program is necessary to counter US aggression.

The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea to guard against the North Korean threat, has called on China to do more to rein in its neighbour.

North Korea conducted its latest ballistic missile test on Sunday in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, saying it was a test of its capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead”.

But a senior North Korean diplomat has said Pyongyang is also open to having talks with Washington under the right conditions.