From the Texas school shooting to Russia’s debt repayment troubles – Here is your May 26 news briefing

From the Texas school shooting to Russia’s debt repayment troubles – Here is your May 26 news briefing
Law enforcement personnel run away from the scene of a suspected shooting near Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, U.S. May 24, 2022. REUTERS/Marco Bello

To start off, we’re looking into:

Texas school attack leaves 21 dead

US President Joe Biden addressed the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, which left 19 children and two teachers dead. The 18-year-old gunman, who reportedly bought his weapons legally just after his 18th birthday, was killed by responding officers. The gunman also posted private messages warning of his plans on Facebook before the attack.

This is the worst shooting of the kind since 2012, when a gunman killed 26 people (mostly first graders) at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The event also comes just 10 days after another mass shooting which claimed the lives of 10 shoppers at a Buffalo, New York grocery store.

Millions worth of illegal smoking products seized

Hong Kong customs

Since Hong Kong’s ban on alternative smoking products, customs has seized around HK$10 million worth of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. This comes from 10 cases detected within two weeks after the ban took effect on April 30.

Hong Kong has banned the commercial use of heated tobacco products, herbal cigarettes and other related devices and accessories. Violation of the policy may result in a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a HK$50,000 fine.

Despite this, the products have been confiscated at three of the city’s control points through different means – parcels airmailed from different countries (like Japan and the UAE), a truck coming from mainland China and travelers who voluntarily declared the items at customs.

Russia likely headed toward default

Russia default
FILE PHOTO: Russian 100-rouble banknotes are placed on a cashier’s desk at a supermarket in the Siberian town of Tara in the Omsk region, Russia, December 14, 2021. Picture taken December 14, 2021. REUTERS/Alexey Malgavko/File Photo

Until now, the US has been giving Russian banks an exemption from sanctions to pay back debt on a case-by-case basis. That way, lenders could at least get their money back despite sanctions against Russia. But now, the US is tightening some of those rules, banning banks and individuals from accepting bond payments from the Russian government, which means that even Russian banks that have the money to pay back their debt may not be able to.

This Friday, Russia is due to pay US$100 million in foreign debt payments. The US did already mention it was closing this loophole and so Russia was already transferring money last week to get ahead. But, if it can’t pay, it has a 30-day grace period to figure something else out, which it did in early May.

In response, Russia said it would pay back its debts in roubles, with the finance minister saying “Now there is money and there is also the readiness to pay. This situation, artificially created by an unfriendly country, will not have any effect on Russians’ quality of life.”

To end, we’ll look into:

Faking dementia to miss court?

Robert Brockman, the software executive charged in the largest-ever tax case against a U.S. individual, arrives for a competency hearing at the federal courthouse in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. Brockman was indicted on tax evasion and money laundering charges that accused him of using a complex trust structure in the Caribbean to hide $2 billion in income over two decades. Photographer: Mark Felix/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Do you remember, when you were a kid, trying to fake being sick so that you could stay home from school? Well, imagine if it wasn’t a kid doing it but an 80-year-old former CEO. And he wasn’t trying to avoid school but rather pretend his dementia had gotten worse to avoid going to court.

That’s what Robert Brockman, the billionaire former CEO of software company Reynolds & Reynolds, is accused of doing. See, he’s facing 39 counts of tax evasion, which is the largest tax evasion case against an individual in US history. His lawyers argued that his dementia was deteriorating, so he couldn’t be expected to stand trial in court.

But prosecutors said the story didn’t add up, and the judge overseeing the case rejected his claims.

Doctors said that Brockman was faking the worsening of his condition. The judge said he was “exaggerating his symptoms of severe dementia, and his cognitive abilities are not as poor as reflected by his cognitive test results.” In other words, “Brockman is malingering to avoid prosecution.”

Prosecutors say that Brockman may have dementia but that he’s faking its severity to try to get out of court, “presenting to select doctors as severely cognitively impaired, while simultaneously leading a normal, unimpaired life.”

In other news …

🇦🇺China has reached out to congratulate Australia’s new Prime Minister Albanese, with former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying that he expects ties between Canberra and Beijing to reset under Albanese’s leadership.

🇨🇳Chinese President Xi held a rare (and some have called unusual) meeting with a top UN human rights official on Wednesday.

⬆️The US Fed held its early May meeting, showing a strong chance that the most powerful central bank in the world would probably approve another two more half-percentage-point rate hikes over the next few months. Global shares rose in response.

🇳🇿New Zealand has hiked its interest rates to 2%, the highest since 2016, to fight inflation.

🇸🇴Somalia is facing its worst drought in decades, with famine worsening across the country and millions requiring aid.

🏀NBA Warriors’ Steve Kerr had some powerful words in response to the Texas shooting. We wanted to share it.

💼Twitter held what could be its last public annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday after Musk said he would buy it for US$44 billion and take it private.

🇭🇰Hong Kong-based Babel Finance said it had raised US$80 million in a new funding round, which values the crypto lender and asset manager at US$2 billion.

🇬🇧The UK government has approved the Chelsea Football Club takeover by Todd Boehly / Clearlake Consortium, ending Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s 19-year term as owner.

Written and put together by Jake Shropshire, Christine Dulion, Julianna Barcela and Krystal Lai