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Tuesday,22-June-2021

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US to rush vaccine raw materials, anti-Covid supplies to India

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In a break from the America First policy, President Joe Biden’s administration is “working round the clock” to immediately send India raw material needed for making Covishield and other products needed in the fight against the COVID-19 surge overtaking the nation, according to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Recalling the assistance sent by India to the US in the early phase of the pandemic last year, he told India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in a phone call on Sunday that “the United States is working around the clock to deploy available resources and supplie”, Sullivan’s Spokesperson Emily Horne said.

Sullivan told Doval that Washington “also is pursuing options to provide oxygen generation and related supplies on an urgent basis,” she said in a readout of their conversation.

The US will also send India anti-COVID supplies like test kits, ventilators, medications and personal protective equipment used by frontline workers.

The National Defence Production Act invoked by former President Donald Trump banned the export of vaccine raw materials and some other COVID-related products and have continued under Biden.

The decision to lift the embargo for India on the export of vaccine raw materials comes after nearly two weeks of requests from Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of vaccine-maker Serum Institute of India, and others in India.

But as recently as Friday various US government spokespersons would not say if the Biden administration would lift the embargo.

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said on Thursday that the “first obligation” was to the American people and added, “It’s in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated”.

But as calls grew for helping India, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken gave a hint on Saturday that India may get the material to fight the pandemic surge.

He tweeted, “We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government, and we will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India’s health care heroes.”

Horne said in the readout, “Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need.”

After some physicians had said that hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) could be a treatment for COVID-19, last April Trump had personally asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lift his ban on its exports and supply the drug to the US.

India sent about 50 million doses of HCQ to the US and thanking Modi, Trump said, “We will remember it.”

Now the next president’s administration is remembering it, even though the emergency use authorisation for HCQ’s in hospital settings in the US was withdrawn and a huge cache of it sits unused while Modi’s decision was crticised in India.

India has been sharing its vaccine production with countries around the world, sending nearly 65 million doses to 86 countries.

Horne said, “Sullivan affirmed America’s solidarity with India, the two countries with the greatest number of COVID-19 cases in the world” and they both “resolved that India and the United States will continue to fight the global COVID-19 pandemic together.”

The readout, listing what India will receive, said, “The United States has identified sources of specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacture of the Covishield vaccine that will immediately be made available for India. To help treat COVID-19 patients and protect front-line health workers in India, the United States has identified supplies of therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, and personal protective equipment (PPE) that will immediately be made available for India.”

The US is also deploying an expert team of public health advisors from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and USAID to work with the embassy in Delhi, India’s Health Ministry, and India’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, the readout said.

USAID, which is the international assistance arm of the US, “will also quickly work with CDC to support and fast-track the mobilization of emergency resources available to India through the Global Fund,” it said. The Global Fund is an international collaboration to fight epidemics and serious diseases.

Looking ahead, the readout said, “The U.S. Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is funding a substantial expansion of manufacturing capability for BioE (Biological E), the vaccine manufacturer in India, enabling BioE to ramp up to produce at least one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022.”

Biological E, a Hyderabad-based company, is set to conduct Phase 3 trials for a vaccine developed by Baylor University and Dynavax Technologies Corporation in the US.

At the March summit of Quad, Biden and Modi, along with Prime Ministers Yoshihide Suga of Japan and Scott Morrison of Australia agreed on a joint plan to help other countries with vaccines that would be made in India with US and Japanese finance and distributed using Australian logistics.

Democratic members of the House of Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Ro Khanna asked Biden to open the spigot on the excess vaccines for India, but from the readout of the Sullivan-Doval meeting it did not appear that as yet there was an agreement on the vaccines.

Krishnamoorthi pointed out that the US had about 40 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is distributed in India under the Covishield brand name, and had begun supplying some of it to Canada and the US.

He said that he would “strongly call on the Biden Administration to release millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses to countries hardest-hit by the spread of COVID-19, including India, Argentina, and potentially others.”

“I applaud the Biden Administration’s decision to put people over profits,” Khanna said welcoming the decision to give India the raw materials and other supplies, and added, “The Biden Administration can still do more, like give India our stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccines that won’t be used in the US.”

Biden’s chief adviser on the COVID-19 pandemic, Anthony Fauci, said on a TV programme on Sunday that sending vaccines to India was under consideration.

International News

Narendra Modi wishes new Israeli PM Naftali Bennett, looks to deepen ties

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday congratulated new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, saying he looks forward to meeting him and deepening the strategic partnership between the two counties.

“Excellency Naftali Bennett, congratulations on becoming the Prime Minister of Israel. As we celebrate 30 years of the upgradation of diplomatic relations next year, I look forward to meeting you and deepening the strategic partnership between our two countries,” Modi tweeted.

He also expressed his gratitude towards former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanking his leadership for his attention to the India-Israel strategic partnership.

“As you complete your successful tenure as the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, I convey my profound gratitude for your leadership and personal attention to India-Israel strategic partnership @netanyahu,” Modi further tweeted.

Naftali Bennett, a right-wing Jewish nationalist and former tech millionaire, became Prime Minister after a vote in the Knesset legislature following weeks of intense political drama. He won with razor-thin majority of 60-59 in the 120-seat chamber.

The former ally of Netanyahu, Bennett will preside over a diverse and fragile coalition comprised of eight parties with deep ideological differences, promising to try to heal a divided nation.

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Crime

Dominica High Court denies bail to Mehul Choksi citing him as flight risk

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Indian fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi was on Friday denied bail by the High Court in Dominica, citing him to be a flight risk, local media reported.

According to Antigua News Room, a news outlet in the Caribbean island, it said, “Choksi’s application was denied on the basis that he is a flight risk, he has no ties to Dominica and the court cannot impose any conditions that will assure it that he wouldn’t abscond.”

Choksi was represented by Cara Shillingford-Marsh, Wayne Benjamin Marsh, Wayne Norde and Julien Prevost.

The 62-year-old, who is wanted in India in connection with a massive bank fraud, will appear before court again on Monday on a charge of illegal entry into Dominica.

Choksi denies the charge, and claims he was kidnapped and taken there by force.

The Indian diamantaire had gone missing from Antigua and Barbuda on May 23 sparking a massive manhunt. He was reportedly captured on May 26 in Dominica.

He is being probed in India by the CBI and the ED in the Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud case.

He has got interim relief from immediate repatriation to India by the Dominican court.

According to investigative agency sources, the Indian government has filed two affidavits in the Dominica high court establishing Choksi as Indian citizen and the serious nature of the fraud he committed on PNB.

India has also submitted detailed evidences in the affidavits.

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Crime

Antigua Cabinet discusses Mehul Choksi’s abduction claim

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The Antigua and Barbuda Cabinet held a brief discussion into Indian fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi’s abduction claim, as well as on the decisions rendered by the Magistrate and the High Court of Dominica, local media reported.

“No new information has emanated from the Dominica authorities that now hold Choksi’s fate in their hands. The authorities in Antigua continue their investigation of Choksi’s claim that he was abducted in Antigua. Since abductions and kidnappings are not crimes usually reported in Antigua, no effort is being spared to uncover all the facts in this supposed abduction,” the Antigua News Room quoted a Cabinet note as saying following the discussion.

Choksi, who is currently facing charges of entering Dominica illegally, was “unlawfully renditioned” from Antigua and Barbuda to Dominica so that he would no longer have the option of appealing to the UK Privy Council, his lawyer contended on Thursday.

Michael Polak, part of the legal team representing Choksi and an expert in providing legal assistance to foreign nationals around the world, told a virtual news conference that the team has also filed a complaint with the War Crimes Unit of the UK’s Metropolitan Police on the ground that the Indian fugitive businessman was tortured.

Describing the case as one of “egregious breach of the rule of law and fundamental fairness”, Polak said: “What happened to Choksi has been terrible. He was lured into a property, kidnapped, a bag placed over his head, beaten, forced on to a boat and unlawfully renditioned into another country.

“In Antigua, he has the right to appeal to the Privy Council in London to determine whether the government is acting properly against him. In Dominica, he does not have such protection. The motive behind the kidnapping could not be clearer.”

He further said there was sufficient evidence Barbara Jarabica and the other men involved in the incident had carried out a “reconnaissance or a failed attempt to kidnap” Choksi in April this year, adding that the fugitive businessman should be returned to Antigua.

Giving details of the abduction attempt, Polak said Jabarica, who lured Choksi to her Airbnb accommodation on May 23, had specifically asked the owner if there is a place for docking a small boat in the backyard.

Revealing chats between Jabarica and owner of the properties, Polak said she had discussed taking two adjoining properties after getting confirmation about docking place for boats.

Polak alleged that one property was used by people with her, who were part of kidnapping team.

The lawyer also claimed that soon after the kidnapping of Choksi, Jabarica left Antigua and Barbuda in a private plane to Dominica.

Choksi, who is wanted in India in the Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud case had gone missing on May 23 from Antigua sparking a massive manhunt.

He was reportedly captured on May 26 in Dominica.

Choksi is facing the charges of entering Dominica illegally.

A Dominican High Court has restrained the extradition.

He had taken the citizenship of Antigua in 2017 and left India on January 4, 2018 days before the case came to light.

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