When Dung Nguyen left Vietnam to work abroad, the 37-year-old said he’d been assured he would be employed by a German company in Serbia, only to have his passport taken away upon arrival at a Chinese-run factory where conditions were dire.
The situation at the factory and the alleged deception used to lure employees has made headlines in Serbia after Nguyen and hundreds of other Vietnamese went on strike this week.
The strike that started on Wednesday was a rare show of defiance by labourers at a Chinese-backed enterprise in the country.
Beijing has invested billions in Serbia and neighbouring Balkan countries in recent years, hoping to expand its economic footprint in central Europe.
Serbia has been quick to cash in on China’s interest, as it seeks to court a range of investors amid the ongoing tug of war between the East and West over influence in the Balkans.
But Belgrade has repeatedly been accused of giving Chinese-owned companies a free hand in how they run their operations.
Critics from civil society, human rights groups and in the media say the government has turned a blind eye to environmental concerns and potential human rights violations.
The Vietnamese workers were employed to build a factory for the Chinese tyre company Linglong in the small northern city of Zrenjanin, considered a centrepiece of Beijing-backed investment in Serbia.
But according to Nguyen, the living and work conditions were untenable and not what he had been promised when he was recruited for the job.
“We are living as if we were in jail… all our passports were kept by the Chinese when we arrived at the airport,” Nguyen told AFP in a video message sent from inside the living quarters.
“I cannot talk more as I am afraid my saying would impact others,” he added.
Even before the strike, private security guards were posted near the workers’ dormitories next to the factory site and journalists including from AFP were prevented from entering the premises.
– ‘Unfit housing’ –
Human rights organisations A11 and ASTRA published a joint report earlier this week demanding “urgent action” from Serbian authorities.
“A large number of established facts indicate the possibility that workers are victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation,” it said.
According to the report, the Vietnamese workers had not been provided with heating, electricity or hot water and the facilities lacked adequate infrastructure and sewerage.
“The conditions were nowhere near suitable for housing human beings,” Danilo Curcic, a human rights lawyer from A11 said during an interview with local broadcaster N1 TV.
“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that some people do not keep animals in those conditions.”
Construction workers at the Zrenjanin factory had already staged two strikes within the last six months, according to A11, sparked by unpaid salaries and a lack of food.
A short documentary aired by N1 this month also showed workers living in cramped conditions inside a makeshift dormitory at the site.
– ‘Unacceptable’ –
“It is unacceptable that an aspiring EU member state seems to tolerate this on its territory and remains silent on cases of potential forced labour in Europe,” Viola von Cramon, a member of the European Parliament for Germany, told AFP.
Linglong said that the Vietnamese workers were not officially employed by the company and had been hired by a Chinese subcontractor.
“Linglong’s only obligation to its contractors is to pay them compensation for the work performed under the contract,” the company said in a statement.
It added it was planning meetings with subcontractors to “inform them about the values the company upholds” and demanded the workers were transferred to “better accommodation”.
It did not respond to an AFP request for further clarification.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry said officials had received no reports of “violence and harassment” at the factory but said it was monitoring the situation.
In a 2019 case that cast a disturbing light on unscrupulous trafficking networks, 39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in a refrigerated truck in Britain after it had crossed the Channel from Europe.
– ‘Steel friendship’ –
Serbian leaders have batted away accusations of malfeasance at Linglong.
Prime Minister Ana Brnabic suggested the incident might have been a conspiracy targeting Chinese investment in the country, after confirming that the Vietnamese workers were being moved to more appropriate accommodation.
President Aleksandar Vucic has vastly expanded ties with Beijing since coming to power and says the two countries enjoy a “steel friendship”.
Serbia was one of the first countries in Europe to receive coronavirus vaccines from China, while Vucic kissed the Chinese flag last year after receiving medical supplies sent by Beijing early on in the pandemic.
Following this week’s headlines, the Serbian leader doubled down, saying Chinese investments would continue to be a top priority.
“What do you want, to destroy an investment worth $900 million?” Vucic said Friday.
“If the Vietnamese need to be helped, we will help. But we will not chase the investors away.”
Woman passenger from UK tests Covid positive at Hyderabad airport
Hyderabad: A 35-year-old international passenger who reached the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport here on Wednesday has tested positive for Covid-19 after undergoing an RT-PCR test at the airport itself. The woman passenger had traveled from the United Kingdom, which has been categorised as an ‘At Risk Country’.
The passenger has been admitted to the Telangana Institute of Medical Sciences (TIMS) and samples were collected and sent for genetic sequencing. Officials said she did not have any symptoms and that her health condition was being monitored closely.
According to officials, the woman hails from Rangareddy district and was on a visit to UK from Hyderabad. Though her close relatives tested negative, their health condition is also being monitored.
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Revealed: how Sidney Powell could be disbarred for lying in court for Trump | US elections 2020
Sidney Powell, the former lawyer for Donald Trump who filed lawsuits across America for the former president, hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, has on several occasions represented to federal courts that people were co-counsel or plaintiffs in her cases without seeking their permission to do so, the Guardian has learned.
Some of these individuals say that they only found out that Powell had named them once the cases were already filed.
During this same period of time, Powell also named several other lawyers – with their permission in those instances – as co-counsel in her election-related cases, despite the fact that they played virtually no role whatsoever in bringing or litigating those cases.
Both Powell’s naming of other people as plaintiffs or co-counsel without their consent and representing that other attorneys were central to her cases when, in fact, their roles were nominal or nonexistent, constitute serious potential violations of the American Bar Association model rules for professional conduct, top legal ethicists told the Guardian.
Powell’s misrepresentations to the courts in those particular instances often aided fundraising for her nonprofit, Defending the Republic. Powell had told prospective donors that the attorneys were integral members of an “elite strike force” who had played outsized roles in her cases – when in fact they were barely involved if at all.
Powell did not respond to multiple requests for comment via phone, email, and over social media.
The State Bar of Texas is already investigating Powell for making other allegedly false and misleading statements to federal courts by propagating increasingly implausible conspiracy theories to federal courts that Joe Biden’s election as president of the United States was illegitimate.
The Texas bar held its first closed-door hearing regarding the allegations about Powell on 4 November. Investigations by state bar associations are ordinarily conducted behind closed doors and thus largely opaque to the public.
A federal grand jury has also been separately investigating Powell, Defending the Republic, as well as a political action committee that goes by the same name, for fundraising fraud, according to records reviewed by the Guardian.
Among those who have alleged that Powell falsely named them as co-counsel is attorney Linn Wood, who brought and litigated with Powell many of her lawsuits attempting to overturn the results of the election with her, including in the hotly contested state of Michigan.
The Michigan case was a futile attempt by Powell to erase Joe Biden’s victory in that state and name Trump as the winner. On 25 August, federal district court Judge Linda Parker, of Michigan, sanctioned Powell and nine other attorneys who worked with her for having engaged in “a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process” in bringing the case in the first place. Powell’s claims of election fraud, Parker asserted, had no basis in law and were solely based on “speculation, conjecture, and unwarranted suspicion”.
Parker further concluded that the conduct of Powell, Wood, and the eight other attorneys who they worked with, warranted a “referral for investigation and possible suspension or disbarment to the appropriate disciplinary authority for each state … in which each attorney is admitted”.
Wood told the court in the Michigan case that Powell had wrongly named him as one of her co-counsel in the Michigan case. During a hearing in the case to determine whether to sanction Wood, his defense largely rested on his claim that he had not been involved in the case at all. Powell, Wood told the court, had put his name on the lawsuit without her even telling him.
Wood said: “I do not specifically recall being asked about the Michigan complaint … In this case obviously my name was included. My experience or my skills apparently were never needed, so I didn’t have any involvement with it.”
Wood’s attorney, Paul Stablein, was also categorical in asserting that his client had nothing to do with the case, telling the Guardian in an interview: “He didn’t draft the complaint. He didn’t sign it. He did not authorize anyone to put his name on it.”
Powell has denied she would have ever named Wood as a co-counsel without Wood’s permission.
But other people have since come forward to say that Powell has said that they were named as plaintiffs or lawyers in her election-related cases without their permission.
In a Wisconsin voting case, a former Republican candidate for Congress, Derrick Van Orden, said he only learned after the fact that he had been named as a plaintiff in one of Powell’s cases.
“I learned through social media today that my name was included in a lawsuit without my permission,” Van Orden said in a statement he posted on Twitter, “To be clear, I am not involved in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the election in Wisconsin.”
Jason Shepherd, the Republican chairman of Georgia’s Cobb county, was similarly listed as a plaintiff in a Georgia election case without his approval.
In a 26 November 2020 statement, Shepherd said he had been talking to an associate of Powell’s prior to the case’s filing about the “Cobb GOP being a plaintiff” but said he first “needed more information to at least make sure the executive officers were in agreeing to us being a party in the suit”. The Cobb County Republican party later agreed to remain plaintiffs in the case instead of withdrawing.
Leslie Levin, a professor at the University of Connecticut Law School, said in an interview: “Misrepresentations to the court are very serious because lawyers are officers of the court. Bringing a lawsuit in someone’s name when they haven’t consented to being a party is a very serious misrepresentation and one for which a lawyer should expect to face serious discipline.”
Nora Freeman Engstrom, a law professor at Stanford University, says that Powell’s actions appear to violate Rule 3.3 of the ABA’s model rules of professional misconduct which hold that “a lawyer shall not knowingly … make a false statement of fact of law to a tribunal”.
Since election day last year, federal and state courts have dismissed more than 60 lawsuits alleging electoral fraud and irregularities by Powell, and other Trump allies.
Shortly after the election, Trump named Powell as a senior member of an “elite strike force” who would prove that Joe Biden only won the 2020 presidential race because the election was stolen from him. But Trump refused to pay her for her services. To remedy this, Powell set up a new nonprofit called Defending the Republic; its stated purpose is to “protect the integrity of elections in the United States”.
As a nonprofit, the group is allowed to raise unlimited amounts of “dark money” and donors are legally protected from the ordinary requirements to disclose their identities to the public. Powell warned supporters that for her to succeed, “millions of dollars must be raised”.
Echoing Trump’s rhetoric, Powell told prospective donors that Defending the Republic had a vast team of experienced litigators.
Among the attorneys who Powell said made up this “taskforce” were Emily Newman, who had served Trump as the White House liaison to the Department of Health and Human Services and as a senior official with the Department of Homeland Security. Newman had been a founding board member of Defending the Republic.
But facing sanctions in the Michigan case, some of the attorneys attempted to distance themselves from having played much of a meaningful role in her litigation.
Newman’s attorney told Parker, the judge, that Newman had “not played a role in the drafting of the complaint … My client was a contract lawyer working from home who spent maybe five hours on this matter. She really wasn’t involved … Her role was de minimis.”
To have standing to file her Michigan case, Powell was initially unable to find a local attorney to be co-counsel on her case but eventually attorney Gregory Rohl agreed to help out.
But when Rohl was sanctioned by Parker and referred to the Michigan attorney disciplinary board for further investigation, his defense was that he, too, was barely involved in the case. He claimed that he only received a copy of “the already prepared” 830-page initial complaint at the last minute, reviewed it for “well over an hour”, while then “making no additions, decisions or corrections” to the original.
As with Newman, Parker, found that Rohl violated ethics rules by making little, if any, effort to verify the facts of the claims in Powell’s filings.
In sanctioning Rohl, the judge wrote that “the court finds it exceedingly difficult to believe that Rohl read an 830-page complaint in just ‘well over an hour’ on the day he filed it. So, Rohl’s argument in and of itself reveals sanctionable conduct.”
Govt to introduce important Bill, Covid situation likely to be discussed
The government on Thursday will table ‘The National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (Amendment) Bill 2021’ in the Lok Sabha. A discussion on Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and its various related aspects is also likely to take place in the lower House.
Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya will move the ‘The National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (Amendment) Bill’ in the Lok Sabha to amend the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research Act, 1998.
Under rule 193, a discussion on Covid-19 pandemic and various aspects related to it will likely take place. According to sources, the members may also raise their concern and ask for the government’s preparedness for the new Omicron variant. Under Rule 193, members can seek details about the new Covid variant. “Short duration discussion is likely to be held in the Lok Sabha on the Covid and its various aspects, including new Omicron variant,” sources said.
Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Prahlad Singh Patel, General V.K. Singh, Krishan Pal, Bhanu Pratap Verma, Rameshwar Teli and Kaushal Kishore will lay papers on the table. Reports and action reports of different standing committees will also be laid in the day.
The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Amendment) Bill 2021 (ART) by voice vote as the amendments moved by the DMK MP N.K. Prem Chandran, Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy and Shiv Sena MP Vinayak Raut were negated. The ART Bill seeks to regulate fertility clinics. All such clinics will have to be registered under the National Registry of Banks and Clinics of India.
The opposition is likely to continue to raise its voices on price rise, unemployment and extended jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF) in some states. The opposition parties are also demanding a law guaranteeing the minimum support price (MSP).
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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