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Turkish gold trader implicates Erdogan in Iran money laundering

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A Turkish-Iranian gold trader on Thursday told jurors in a federal court in New York that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally authorized a transaction on behalf of Iran.

Reza Zarrab is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors in the criminal trial of a Turkish bank executive accused of conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran. At the time of the alleged conspiracy, Erdogan was Turkey’s prime minister.

The testimony came on the third day of the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank, who has pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court.

U.S. prosecutors have charged nine people in the case, although only Zarrab, 34, and Atilla, 47, have been arrested by U.S. authorities. Prosecutors have said the defendants took part in a scheme from 2010 to 2015 that involved gold trades and fake purchases of food to give Iran access to international markets, violating U.S. sanctions.

The case has fueled tensions between the United States and Turkey, which are NATO allies. Erdogan’s government has said the case was fabricated for political reasons.

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Zarrab, who began testifying on Wednesday morning, has told jurors that he ran a massive international money laundering scheme to help Iran get around U.S. sanctions and spend its oil and gas revenues abroad. He said he helped Iran use funds deposited at Halkbank to buy gold, which was smuggled to Dubai and sold for cash.

Zarrab has said that Atilla helped develop and carry out the transactions, along with Halkbank’s former general manager, Suleyman Aslan.

Zarrab also said that he paid bribes worth more than $50 million to Zafer Caglayan, who was Turkey’s economy minister, to further the scheme.

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Both Caglayan and Aslan were charged in the case. Turkey’s government has previously said that Caglayan acted within Turkish and international law, and Halkbank has said all of its transactions fully complied with national and international regulations.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler)


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School district threatens parents their children may be put in foster care over unpaid lunch bills

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A Luzerne County, Pennsylvania school district is under fire for sending letters to parents who owe money for their children's lunches. The letters threaten that if the bills remain unpaid their children could be removed from their homes and placed in foster care.

"Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without breakfast and/or lunch. This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child's right to food," the letter reads, as NBC News reported.

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Trump pits Apollo 11 astronauts against NASA chief — he thinks he understands space travel better

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President Donald Trump welcomed surviving Apollo 11 crew members Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the White House Friday, using the occasion to tell his space chief he would prefer to go straight to Mars without returning to the Moon.

It is a theme he had touched upon earlier this month in a tweet, and this time drew on the support of the two former astronauts, who are taking part in celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of their mission, to make his case to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

"To get to Mars, you have to land on the Moon, they say," said Trump, without looking convinced.

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Babies born near oil and gas wells are up to 70% more likely to have congenital heart defects, new study shows

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Researchers at the University of Colorado studied pregnant women who are among the 17 million Americans living within a mile from an active oil or gas well

Proximity to oil and gas sites makes pregnant mothers up to 70 percent more likely to give birth to a baby with congenital heart defects, according to a new study.

Led by Dr. Lisa McKenzie at the University of Colorado, researchers found that the chemicals released from oil and gas wells can have serious and potentially fatal effects on babies born to mothers who live within a mile of an active well site—as about 17 million Americans do.

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