Ghislaine Maxwell appeals sex trafficking conviction and sentence | Courts News

Maxwell, who a judge said played ‘instrumental’ role in abuse of girls by Jeffrey Epstein, got 20-year sentence in June.

Ghislaine Maxwell has appealed her sex trafficking conviction and 20-year prison sentence for facilitating the abuse of underage girls by disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein.

The appeal was filed on Thursday, nine days after her sentencing by US Circuit Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan.

After a monthlong trial, a US jury in December convicted Maxwell on five charges, including sex trafficking of minors, finding that she had recruited and groomed four girls for abuse by Epstein, then her boyfriend, between 1994 and 2004.

Maxwell’s lawyers had argued that she was unfairly scapegoated for Epstein’s crimes, but Nathan said Maxwell played an “instrumental” role in the abuse and had caused “incalculable” damage to the victims.

At her sentencing in June, Maxwell called meeting Epstein “the greatest regret of my life”.

But prosecutors had argued that Maxwell made her own choices and said that she had expressed little remorse for her participation in what Nathan called a “horrific scheme to entice, transport and traffic underage girls, some as young as 14, for sexual abuse by and with Jeffrey Epstein”.

Maxwell, the daughter of the British media powerhouse Robert Maxwell, could be imprisoned into her late 70s.

She has been jailed for two years at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Maxwell’s appeal was anticipated, and her lawyers have said that her conviction was tainted because the evidence did not prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, prosecuting attorneys took too long to indict her, and one of the jurors failed to mention that he had been sexually abused as a child.

Nathan rejected those arguments in April, and it is not clear what issues with the verdict Maxwell and her legal team plan to bring forward.

Maxwell’s lawyers also have argued that jail officials did not allow Maxwell to adequately prepare for the trial and that the guidelines Nathan used to decide her sentence should have been different.

The appeals process will most likely last several months.

Theranos Executive Ramesh Balwani Found Guilty of 12 Counts of Fraud

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Ramesh Balwani, a former top executive at Theranos, was found guilty on Thursday of 12 counts of fraud, in a verdict that was more severe than that of his co-conspirator, Elizabeth Holmes, and solidifying the failed blood-testing start-up as the ultimate Silicon Valley cautionary tale.

Mr. Balwani and Ms. Holmes, who together pushed Theranos to soaring heights with a promise to revolutionize health care, are the most prominent tech executives to be charged with and convicted of fraud in a generation. A jury of five men and seven women took 32 hours to produce a verdict, convicting Mr. Balwani, known as Sunny, of all 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Ms. Holmes was convicted in January on four counts of fraud and acquitted of four; three other charges were dismissed after the jury could not reach a consensus. She has appealed the verdict, and Mr. Balwani is expected to do the same.

Both of their cases hinged on whether they had exaggerated the abilities of Theranos’s blood-testing machines to appeal to investors and customers, when the products did not actually work.

Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Mr. Balwani and Ms. Holmes are expected to be sentenced together in September.

As the guilty verdicts rolled in, Mr. Balwani, 57, who appeared in court in a black suit and blue medical mask, briefly shot a look at the jury before fixing his gaze straight ahead.

The dual guilty verdicts are a rare instance of the Silicon Valley hype machine’s leading to possible prison time. Since Theranos collapsed in 2018, the company has become a form of shorthand for business grifters, and the world has developed a voracious appetite for messy start-up rise-and-fall stories, such as WeWork’s disastrous first attempt to go public and the trickery of Ozy Media. But Theranos was the only one to result in criminal charges. Its consequences are likely to send a message to entrepreneurs who exaggerate in the name of innovation.

The verdict showed that jurors were swayed by the prosecutors’ evidence that Mr. Balwani knew about the problems in Theranos’s technology and business while deceiving investors and patients. Mr. Balwani had tried deflecting blame by arguing that Ms. Holmes — as the chief executive and founder of Theranos — was in charge, and by arguing that he had believed in Theranos’s mission and technology.

Mr. Balwani “put his heart and soul into Theranos,” said Jeffrey Coopersmith, a lawyer for Mr. Balwani, in his closing argument. “He worked tirelessly, year after year, to make the company a success.”

Evidence from the trial, including text messages, emails and testimony from 24 witnesses, showed that Mr. Balwani had been deeply involved in nearly every aspect of Theranos’s business and aware of its problems. He led its lab, created its financial projections, presided over personnel issues and attended many pitch meetings with investors.

“Mr. Balwani wants you to think he is a victim,” Jeffrey Schenk, an assistant U.S. attorney and a lead prosecutor in the case, said in his closing argument. “Mr. Balwani is not the victim — he’s the perpetrator of the fraud.”

The verdict arrived during a harsh awakening for the tech industry, as stock prices have tanked amid rising interest rates, ballooning inflation and economic uncertainty. Investors, burned by the sell-off, have stopped chasing high-risk, money-losing start-ups, prompting many Silicon Valley companies to cut staff and slow their aggressive plans for expansion. The humbling moment has many predicting the end of a decade-long boom for tech start-ups.

Mr. Balwani and Ms. Holmes capitalized on that era of go-go optimism for Theranos. The pair met when Ms. Holmes was 18, and they began dating in secret shortly after she created the start-up. Mr. Balwani joined the company in 2009 and invested in it.

As Theranos’s chief operating officer, he played a behind-the-scenes role in the company’s rise. He helped Ms. Holmes cultivate her Steve Jobs-like image, ran the lab and aided in fund-raising, pushing the company to a $9 billion valuation.

A 2015 exposé in The Wall Street Journal, which revealed Theranos had lied about its blood tests, sent the company reeling. Mr. Balwani soon left, and the start-up went under in 2018. That year, he and Ms. Holmes were charged with fraud.

Each defendant was frequently discussed in the other’s trial, but neither testified against the other. Ms. Holmes accused Mr. Balwani of emotional and sexual abuse, but those accusations were not permitted as evidence in his trial.

“The story of Theranos is a tragedy,” Mr. Schenk, the prosecutor, said in his closing argument.

Kalley Huang contributed reporting.

UN special rapporteur says Israeli strikes on Gaza are ‘illegal’ | Israel-Palestine conflict News

Francesca Albanez calls on the United Nations to investigate whether Israel has breached international law and ensure accountability.

The United Nations special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories says Israel’s air raids on the besieged Gaza Strip “not only are illegal but irresponsible”, calling for a diplomatic solution to the latest bout of violence, which began on Friday when Israel launched air attacks on Gaza City.

“The situation in Gaza is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis,” Francesca Albanez told Al Jazeera.

“The only way to secure the wellness of Palestinians wherever they are is to lift the siege and allow aid to enter.”

Israel has characterised the assault as a “preemptive” act of self-defence against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group and said its operation could last a week.

Albanez blasted the United States for saying that it believed Israel had the right to defend itself. “Israel cannot claim that it’s defending itself in this conflict,” Albanez said.

The US ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, wrote on Twitter on Friday: “The United States firmly believes that Israel has a right to protect itself. We are engaging with different parties and urge all sides for calm.”

His remarks were echoed by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who said the United Kingdom “stands by Israel and its right to defend itself”, and condemned the “terrorist groups firing at civilians and violence which has resulted in casualties on both sides”.

At least 31 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and 260 injured since Friday. No serious casualties had been reported on the Israeli side as of Sunday, as the Iron Dome defence system shot down 97 percent of missiles launched from the besieged strip, according to its military.

“Protection is something I demanded in Palestine, and that’s not me alone. It is necessary … to protect civilian lives,” Albanez said. “[Israel] cannot be defending itself from civilians since 1967.”

The special rapporteur, who is an independent expert responsible for monitoring human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories and referring them to the UN, called on the international body to ascertain whether international law had been breached in Gaza and ensure accountability.

“I believe lack of accountability strengthens Israel,” Albanez said. “I see ending occupation as the solution.”

An independent commission of inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council after a brutal war in Gaza in May 2021 said Israel must do more than just “ending the occupation” of land that Palestinian leaders want for a future state.

“Ending the occupation alone will not be sufficient,” the report published in June found. It added that action must be taken to ensure the equal enjoyment of human rights for Palestinians.

However, it cited evidence that Israel had “no intention of ending the occupation” but was instead pursuing “complete control” of the territories taken in 1967.

The commission found the Israeli government to have been “acting to alter the demography through the maintenance of a repressive environment for Palestinians and a favourable environment for Israeli settlers”.

The US quit the Council in 2018 citing “chronic bias” against Israel and fully rejoined only this year.

In May 2021, an 11-day-long military offensive on Gaza killed more than 260 Palestinians and injured over 2,000. Thirteen people were killed in Israel.

Expert GeoGuessr Players Know That Google Maps Spot Instantly

An unremarkable stretch of highway and trees, as seen on Google Maps’ Street View, appeared on the screen. It could have been anywhere from Tasmania to Texas.

“This is going to be south Philippines, somewhere on this road down here,” Trevor Rainbolt said instantly, clicking on a location on a map of the world that was less than 11 miles from the spot.

A road winding through woods was up next. Lake Tahoe? Siberia? “It looks like we’re going to be in Switzerland here, unless we’re in Japan. Yeah, we have to be in Japan here,” Mr. Rainbolt said, correctly pinpointing the country.

Mr. Rainbolt has become the face of a fast-growing community of geography fanatics who play a game called GeoGuessr. The premise is simple: As you stare at a computer or phone, you’re plopped down somewhere in the world in Google Street View and must guess, as quickly as you can, exactly where you are. You can click to travel down roads and through cities, scanning for distinguishable landmarks or language. The closer you guess, the more points you score.

To some, Mr. Rainbolt’s snap answers seem like wizardry. To him, they are simply the result of countless hours of practice and an insatiable thirst for geographic knowledge.

“I don’t think I’m some genius,” said Mr. Rainbolt, a 23-year-old online video producer in Los Angeles. “It’s like a magician. To the magician, the trick is easy, but to everyone else, it’s a lot harder.”

For the casual player, traversing still images of winding pastoral roads, Mediterranean foothills and streets filled with tuk-tuks can be tranquil, especially without a time limit. But for performers like Mr. Rainbolt, the pace is frenetic, and identifying a location can take only seconds — or less.

Mr. Rainbolt is not the top GeoGuessr player in the world. That distinction is often considered to belong to a Dutch teenager who goes by GeoStique, or to a French player known as Blinky. But since around the start of this year, Mr. Rainbolt has been the standard-bearer for GeoGuessr, thanks to his captivating social media posts, shared with his 820,000 followers on TikTok as well as on other social platforms.

Appearing in a hoody and sometimes headphones as dramatic classical music plays in the background, Mr. Rainbolt identifies countries after what appears to be simply a glance at the sky or a patch of trees.

In some videos, he guesses the correct locale after looking at a Street View image for only a tenth of a second, or in black and white, or pixelated — or all of the above. In others, he is blindfolded and guesses (correctly) off a description someone else provides him.

The videos that have generated the most shock are ones in which Mr. Rainbolt, using his topographical sleuthing, identifies exactly where music videos were filmed. In one viral clip, he found the exact street in Nevada from a video of a person driving with a capybara. “If I ever go missing, I hope someone hires this guy on my behalf,” one Twitter user commented.

GeoGuessr was created in 2013 by a Swedish software engineer, Anton Wallén, who came up with the idea while on a trek across the United States. Early influencers like GeoWizard, a British YouTuber, helped promote the game. It also gained popularity during the pandemic, when it introduced a multiplayer mode called Battle Royale.

Mr. Rainbolt’s social media posts boosted it further. Last month, in a publicity coup, Mr. Rainbolt livestreamed with Ludwig Ahgren, a former Twitch personality who now broadcasts to three million followers on YouTube.

The GeoGuessr site now has 40 million accounts, said Filip Antell, who leads content for GeoGuessr, a 25-person company in Stockholm. Some of those people are subscribers who chip in $2 a month for the ability to play an unlimited number of games. The revenue, Mr. Antell said, goes toward paying developers and Google, which charges GeoGuessr for the use of its software.

Despite his globe-spanning knowledge, Mr. Rainbolt, who grew up in Arkansas, has never left North America. But he has plenty of locales on his bucket list, including Laos and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. People tell Mr. Rainbolt that his passion is somewhat crazy. The most common question his friends ask him is: “Is it real?”

He says it is, and promises he has never faked a video. He does get countries wrong, sometimes. Mistaking the United States for Canada, or the Czech Republic for Slovakia, are two common slip-ups for even the greatest players. And he acknowledged that he was mostly posting only his highlights on social media, rather than the occasional fumble.

So how does he do it?

The key, of course, is practice. Mr. Rainbolt fell down the GeoGuessr rabbit hole during the pandemic, watching others livestream their play and poring through study guides assembled by geography lovers. He said he spent four to five hours each day studying: playing GeoGuessr in specific countries repeatedly to get a feel for the terrain and memorizing how landmarks like road markers and telephone poles differ by country.

“Candidly, I haven’t had any social life for the past year,” he said. “But it’s worth it, because it’s so fun and I enjoy learning.”

Some of the top features that Mr. Rainbolt uses to distinguish one country from another, he said, are bollards, the posts used as barriers on the sides of roads; telephone poles; license plates; which side of the road the cars are driving on; and soil color.

There are other clues, if you know where to look. The quality of the image matters — Google filmed different countries using different generations of camera — as does the color of the car being used to record the terrain. A glimpse of a white car in South America, for instance, means you’re in Peru, Bolivia or Chile, Mr. Rainbolt said.

GeoGuessr has a variety of game modes. One of the most popular formats is a duel, in which players or teams start with 6,000 points and take “damage” based on how accurate their opponent’s gues
ses are until they are reduced to zero. In some games, you are allowed to click to move through the map, while others are “no-move” games. Once one player has guessed, the other has 15 seconds to lock in a prediction.

Professional GeoGuessr players — so described because they are the best in the world, not because they earn a living doing it — say the competitive scene is still nascent but growing rapidly.

Leon Cornale, a 21-year-old pro player known as Kodiak, from Ratingen, Germany, described competitive GeoGuessr as “fragmented and divided.” A group of players in France, for instance, have formed their own community and host tournaments, while other players have formed groups through Reddit. But GeoGuessr’s recent social media popularity has jump-started interest in broader competitions.

The best players, who are often as young as 15, vie for world records and have begun competing in tournaments organized by Mr. Rainbolt and streamed live on Twitch. There’s little money to be had, but star players do earn the adulation of the thousands of more casual GeoGuessr players who gather on a Discord server to swap tips and share scores.

Lukas Zircher, a 24-year-old in Innsbruck, Austria, grew obsessed with GeoGuessr when he stumbled upon one of Mr. Rainbolt’s Instagram posts. Mr. Zircher decided that he, too, wanted to become one of the greats of the game.

“It’s tough to get good, really good,” said Mr. Zircher, whose free time is now devoted to studying bollards and memorizing the color of South African soil. “I can recognize all the African countries from a few pictures, but I’m still far from being good — I miss all the eastern European countries.”

Syd Mills, a 22-year-old freelance illustrator from New Jersey, became enthralled after watching Mr. Rainbolt’s content. She had played GeoGuessr before, but was surprised at how quickly she improved after watching his videos that provide tips on identifying countries.

“This time, instead of passively wandering around and desperately looking for a language hint or a flag, I would pick up on stuff like guardrails, road markings, bollards,” Ms. Mills said.

She sometimes experiences moments that she imagines are similar to the awe Mr. Rainbolt inspires. Once, when playing GeoGuessr with her father, she immediately identified an image as being in Uruguay, because of lines on a road.

His reaction, she said, was “How the hell do you know that?”

Boris Johnson’s exit is a sign that the system is functioning | Politics

A feature of a working constitution is that repugnant things can be spat out by the body politic.

Today Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, announced his resignation. The resignation of any prime minister is significant, but this one is remarkable.

Johnson has not lost any vote. In December 2019, he led the Conservative Party to an emphatic victory at the general election. His government has a substantial majority in the House of Commons. A few weeks ago he decisively won a vote of confidence of his party’s members of parliament.

And yet he is going against his will. From having the greatest gifts that the British constitution can bestow on a prime minister – a large majority to get legislation through the House of Commons and an election mandate to force things through the House of Lords – he is now a political loser.

He had everything a prime minister could want and it is now to be taken from him.

Political journalists and historians will for some time discuss how this fall came about. But from a constitutionalist perspective, this resignation shows both the strengths and weaknesses of the office of prime minister.

On the face of it, the office has immense power. In theory, the prime minister and their party are subject only to the discipline of general elections. But since 1974 every single prime minister has either gained office or lost office between general elections – or, with the cases of Theresa May and Boris Johnson, both.

This is because a prime minister depends on the confidence of both the cabinet and their parliamentary majority.  When that confidence goes, they tend to go – usually with dignity, or – as with Johnson – arrogant defiance. These losses of confidence are, in turn, shown through things other than straight votes. They can be shown by calls for leadership elections and they can be shown by resignations and refusals to serve as ministers.

A prime minister could seek to ignore such signals. If so, they would eventually face formal parliamentary votes of no confidence or dismissal by Queen Elizabeth.  There were fears that Johnson would “fight on” after the extraordinary spate of resignations and letters of no confidence over the last few days. But he has not.

A feature of a working constitution is that repugnant things can be spat out by the body politic. The casual dishonesty and cynicism of the current prime minister meant that he has been ejected, only two-and-a-half years after his great general election victory. He may stay on for a while, so that the governing party can select a successor.

For him – and the United Kingdom polity – to have gone from the general election of 2019 to today’s resignation – has been quite the journey. We have now had three prime ministers in six years, and our politics is still in its post-Brexit unstable state. The next prime minister may go on for ages, or may be the next short-lived prime minister.

Whatever happens next, the truth remains that for all its public prominence, the office of prime minister is quite weak, once its holder loses the confidence of others in the polity. Johnson’s mistake was to think such constitutional restraint would not apply to him. But such hubris was always going to meet its nemesis.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.