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Becker faces trial over failure to use trophies to settle debts | Tennis News

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The six-time Grand Slam champion, who was declared bankrupt in 2017, is alleged to have failed to hand over various tennis trophies to settle his debts.

Boris Becker arrived at a London court on Monday to stand trial over accusations that he failed to hand over trophies he won during his glittering tennis career to settle his debts.

The 54-year-old German commentator, who was declared bankrupt in 2017, is accused of not complying with obligations to disclose information.

The six-time Grand Slam champion is alleged to have failed to hand over various trophies, including the 1985 Wimbledon trophy, which catapulted him to stardom as an unknown 17-year-old, as well as his two Australian Open trophies.

Becker, who arrived at Southwark Crown Court dressed in a dark overcoat and purple scarf, is also accused of transferring large sums of money into other accounts, including to former wife Barbara Becker, and estranged wife Sharlely “Lilly” Becker.

The former world number one, who commentated for the BBC at Wimbledon last year, is facing a three-week trial on an indictment of more than 20 counts at the court, where he will be helped by a German translator.

Germany's Boris Becker smiles while holding his trophy with the Melbourne city skyline
Becker smiles while holding his trophy with the Melbourne city skyline behind him [File: Stringer/Reuters]

Becker, with a shock of strawberry-blond hair, burst onto the scene in 1985 when he became Wimbledon’s youngest men’s singles champion – repeating the feat the following year.

Becker’s dynamic play and boyish enthusiasm – best captured in his penchant for spectacular diving volleys on the Wimbledon grass – made him the darling of the crowds at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

The German, nicknamed “Boom, Boom” Becker for his ferocious serve, won Wimbledon for a third time in 1989.

He also won the Australian Open twice and the US Open, becoming the top-ranked player in the world in 1991.

Retirement

Becker, who amassed more than $25m during his playing career, became a television commentator after his retirement, with a high-profile role on the BBC.

He returned to the court in 2013 as the coach of Novak Djokovic and helped the Serb win six more Grand Slam trophies before the pair parted ways in 2016.

Becker’s tangled private life has also kept him in the headlines since he retired from playing – including a daughter conceived in a brief but now famous encounter with a Russian model at a London restaurant.

In 2002, a court in Munich sentenced Becker to a two-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 300,000 euros ($332,000) for tax evasion of about 1.7 million euros ($1.9m).

Trophies and memorabilia from the career of German tennis star Boris Becker
Trophies and memorabilia from the career of German tennis star Boris Becker are displayed for viewing to be sold in an online auction [File: Matt Dunham/AP]



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Tory disdain for the poor is fuelling UK’s cost of living crisis | Opinions

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Britain’s cost of living crisis is spiralling out of control. The rise in food and energy bills is swiftly outstripping the disposable income of thousands of families, forcing them to make impossible choices between heating their homes, buying groceries, or putting aside money for their work commute.

According to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), more than 250,000 households across the country will fall into “destitution” as early as next year – taking the number of those living in extreme poverty to a whopping 1.2 million – if the government does not take immediate action to help struggling families.

It did not have to be this way. Think-tanks, activists, opposition politicians, and frankly everyone with any understanding of the myriad struggles facing Britain’s working-class communities have long been urging the Tory government to reverse its post-Brexit welfare cuts, increase universal credit, and make small, one-off cash payments to those in most need to stop poverty levels skyrocketing in one of the world’s leading economies.

Regrettably, the government chose to do the exact opposite. In October 2021, as the nation was still struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences, for example, it slashed universal credit payments by 20 British pounds ($25) a week, leaving countless vulnerable Britons unable to pay their bills and put food on their table.

And this April, as skyrocketing energy prices added more urgency to an already devastating crisis, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said it would be “silly” for the government to provide more help to struggling families now. Despite households across the country facing an average £700 ($879) increase in their gas and electricity bills immediately after April, with another 50 percent spike expected in October, Sunak – whose family is worth more than £700 million ($879 million) – said he won’t act before “knowing what the situation will be in autumn”.

These days, when criticised for not doing enough quickly enough to address the cost of living crisis, Sunak points to the so-called £200 ($251) energy bill “discount” he arranged for British households to receive on their bill in October. This, however, as many repeatedly pointed out, is not a “grant” but a “loan”, meaning people will be forced to pay it back to the state starting in 2023 – in other words, whatever respite the “discount” may provide now will be cancelled once the government demands it back a few months later.

Earlier this month, after the Office for National Statistics revealed that inflation reached 9 percent in the year to April – the highest one-year increase in more than 30 years – Sunak said, “Countries around the world are dealing with rising inflation … We cannot protect people completely from these global challenges”.

There is no denying that it is not only Britain that is facing a cost of living crisis today. From the COVID-19 pandemic to the conflict in Ukraine, several challenges came together to brew a perfect storm, increasing the economic vulnerability of the poorest communities across the globe.

Nevertheless, it is also dishonest to deny that our current government has a particular disinterest in helping the poorest and most vulnerable in society. And this is causing the British working class and the poor to suffer more during this time of global economic upheaval than their counterparts in other developed economies.

In Britain, fully employed nurses say they rely on food banks to feed their families.

In Britain, pensioners say they ride the bus all day, every day to remain warm because they can no longer afford to pay their energy bills.

In Britain, new mothers say they skip meals to be able to buy their babies’ formula.

And this is not a problem affecting only an unfortunate few. The Trussell Trust, an NGO that works to end the need for food banks in the UK, said food banks in their network distributed 2.1 million emergency food parcels from April 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022 – a 14 percent increase from the previous year. Eight-hundred-and-thirty-thousand of these parcels were provided for children. According to research by the Food Foundation, in this country “around one in seven adults live in homes where people have skipped meals, eaten smaller portions or gone hungry all day because they could not afford or access food.”

Despite all this, those in government act as if all this suffering was inevitable. Worse, they claim that the desperate situation many of us working-class Britons find ourselves in is our own fault – a consequence of our supposed inability to live our lives efficiently.

Recently, Conservative MP Lee Anderson argued in the House of Commons, without a hint of irony, that food banks are mostly “unnecessary” because the leading cause of food poverty is not actual poverty but a lack of cooking and budgetary skills.

While his tone-deaf comments attracted much condemnation from the public, opposition MPs, and campaigners, his Conservative colleagues rushed to support him, showing that they share his misguided beliefs about food poverty.

MP Brendan Clarke-Smith, for example, penned an entire op-ed for the Daily Express newspaper explaining why Anderson’s offensive comments on food banks were actually “completely spot on”. Meanwhile, MP Jacob Rees Mogg – who once claimed food banks are “rather uplifting” as they show what a “compassionate” country Britain is – said he would not have made Anderson’s comments, but only because he “cannot cook” himself.

Britain’s cost of living crisis is undoubtedly part of a larger pattern. Nevertheless, millions of working-class Britons are not struggling to heat their homes and feed their children in the world’s fifth-largest economy simply because of “global challenges”.

They are struggling because this country is being led through this crisis by a party whose members have nothing but contempt and disdain for the poor.

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



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AirAsia faces backlash over delayed pandemic refunds | Aviation

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Malaysia’s AirAsia is facing a wave of complaints from customers who say they have still not been refunded for flights that were cancelled or rescheduled during the pandemic.

AirAsia and its subsidiary AirAsia X (AAX), both owned by Capital A Berhad, grounded thousands of flights in 2020 and 2021 after the Malaysian government shut state and international borders to curb the spread of COVID-19.

But months after the low-cost carrier resumed flights following the lifting of interstate and international border restrictions for Malaysians in October, hundreds of customers have taken to social media to complain of poor customer service and long waits for refunds.

Rohana Betak, 60, said she requested a refund of 4,000 Malaysian ringgit ($911) after the airline cancelled her flights between Senai and Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah state, following the introduction of a nationwide lockdown in March 2020.

Betak, who planned to visit the area around Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia’s highest peak, with her family in October 2021, said the airline’s automated online customer service only offered her the option of travelling on different dates. Betak decided against accepting the offer due to uncertainty over when restrictions would be lifted and concerns about catching COVID-19. Two years later, she says she is still waiting for her money back.

“In my request, I said it was fine to refund me credits for the booking but instead I was reminded in June 2020 that I must board the flight to Sabah on a different date and there would be no refunds,” Betak told Al Jazeera.

“It was not helpful because instead of offering me at least credit in refunds, it told me I had no other choice but to travel on different dates.”

 Rohana Betak
Rohana Betak, pictured in a pink hat in the back row, says she has been waiting two years for a refund from  AirAsia [Courtesy of Rohana Betak]

Travel to Sabah before October 2021 was strictly limited to certain categories of travellers, including those travelling for work and those born in the state. Rohana and her family did not fall under any exempted category.

“When it demanded I get on another flight, I asked if they wanted to send me and my family to our deaths?” Betak said. “It’s so frustrating and I am so tired of trying to get my money back so I’ve accepted that I might not get my money back at all.”

Many of the complaints have been directed towards AVA, AirAsia’s online chatbot, which is the only line of communication between customers and the airline for issues involving bookings or flights.

In particular, some have questioned why it is so difficult to reach customer service to request a refund, even for flights booked since the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

Customer Aulia Chaerisa Salleh said she is waiting for a refund for a flight between Batam and Jakarta that was booked earlier this month after she was informed no seat was available.

“I paid for my ticket and it did not register in the system so I tried to get my refund for my tickets. I tried the AVA live chat but it is not helpful at all. It has been days, I haven’t heard from them,” she said.

Under AirAsia’s current refund policy, the airline offers customers a refund, credit or a new travel date whenever a flight is cancelled or postponed.

AirAsia told Al Jazeera the airline is engaged in ongoing dialogue with consumer regulators across the region to ensure compliance with all local regulations.

“AirAsia Group’s policies are in line with many low-cost operators in the travel industry worldwide and are fully compliant with all regulatory requirements and as a customer-centric airline, we have focused on resolving all customer queries during the pandemic as soon as possible,” a spokesperson said.

The airline group said it has resolved more than 90 percent of refund requests and is committed to resolving a small number of outstanding claims as soon as possible.

“In Malaysia for example, our current refund progress is only left with 0.03 percent of the refund requests we received and we are looking forward to completing the refunds exercise for all outstanding queries within the next few months,” the spokesperson said, adding that the past two years had been the most challenging in the history of commercial aviation.

The spokesperson added that “our passengers remain our number one priority” and the airline will “continue to enhance our services to deliver the very best in terms of safe, affordable and reliable air travel”.

‘Problem child’

Tan Kok Liang, president of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA), said the refunds backlog is a short-term issue and its 3,100 members will continue to book with AirAsia as long as requested by customers.

“The problem child is AAX and while air connectivity is crucial for tourism recovery, based on media reports, AirAsia should be held more accountable to all stakeholders,” Tan told Al Jazeera.

The hefty compensation paid out to airline co-founders Tony Fernandez and Kamarudin Maranun, who took home close to 30 million ringgit ($6.8m) combined last year, has also raised eyebrows.

Following the release of Capital A’s Annual Report 2021 last month, some social media users vented their frustrations on Fernandez’s personal Instagram accounts, with one comment slamming AirAsia as “the one and only airline that does not have a customer service phone number.”

Despite the generous executive compensation, AAX, the group’s long-haul carrier, was last year forced to undergo debt restructuring to save itself from liquidation after racking up huge debts during the pandemic.

In March, AAX announced it had completed its debt restructuring after creditors earlier agreed to a deal under which the airline would pay just 0.5 percent of outstanding debt and terminate existing contracts to restructureRM33.65 billion(US$8.1 billion) of liabilities.

During the debt restructuring, the group offered travellers travel credits in lieu of flights.

The Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM), however, urged the airline to reimburse customers for tickets purchased while threatening to exercise its powers under the Malaysian Aviation Commission Act 2015.

Capital A posted revenue of 1.7 billion ringgit ($387m) in the 2021 financial year, down 47 percent from the previous year, as capacity sank to just 36 percent of 2020 levels.



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Can renewable energy help close power gap in India’s hot summer? | Business and Economy News

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New Delhi, India — As temperatures soar beyond 40 degrees Celsius in Hasanganj village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the nearly 14-hour power cuts in the area mean that the bananas that Ramesh, a fruit vendor who goes by one name, sells are rotting faster than normal with no fans to keep them cool. As sales dip, tempers fray at home, and his children can neither sleep nor study in the searing heat.

The power outages have “aggravated” their problems, Ramesh told Al Jazeera.

As a heatwave rippled through parts of northern India from late March through early May, demand for power shot up, loading power lines and leading to massive outages in several parts of the country as thermal plants ran low on coal.

The spate of events, especially as summer has set in sooner and hotter than expected, has renewed a call to dig and import more coal even as India’s coal production has continued to steadily rise. Global coal prices have shot up since the start of the Ukraine war, hiking India’s import costs anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent, at a time when the rupee has tumbled to record lows, making imports even more expensive.

As a result, on May 7 the environment ministry allowed certain coal mines to expand production up to 50 percent, from the current 40 percent, without seeking the environmental clearances that would normally be mandatory.

A day earlier, the power ministry ordered all power plants that run on imported coal to operate at full capacity and allowed the power producers to pass the hike in tariffs on to consumers.

“The response in the short term is that no matter what, you’ve got to pay the cost to keep the lights on, especially in the middle of a heatwave that will kill people,” said Tim Buckley, the director of Climate Energy Finance, a think-tank in Australia. “But there’s a massive, massive cost to the Indian people.”

One basic cost that Buckley is referring to is the actual price of electricity. While most thermal and renewable electricity in India is sold through long-term contracts, there is still a price difference creeping in for coal power, he says, especially for the 3 to 4 percent that is traded on the exchanges. For instance, of late, while power from domestic coal is being sold at 4-5 rupees/kwh ($0.05-0.06), that goes up to 5-8 rupees/kwh ($0.05-0.10) for power from imported coal (and went up to as high as 12 rupees/kwh or $0.15 on the spot market one day last week). Power from wind and solar, in the meanwhile, is at 3 rupees and 2.5 rupees ($0.03 and $0.04), respectively.

More importantly, adds Buckley, “50-degree heat shows that infrastructure doesn’t work. Coal power plants can’t run above 50 degrees. They break just when you need them.”

Experts say that it’s actually a reminder that India should invest more in its renewable energy to better secure its energy needs.

In fact, late last month as power companies scrambled for coal to burn as demand for fans, coolers and air conditioning rocketed, it was energy from wind plants that came to the rescue as that comes on the grid from late April and runs through August, petering off by mid-September.

“Every unit [of electricity] that wind provides, you generate that much less from coal and that ensures that you’re not in a scarcity mode anymore,” says Karthik Ganesan, a fellow and director in research coordination at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a New Delhi think-tank.

INTERACTIVE_India_Coal_Shortage_1_17-05-2022-02

‘Fundamental problems’

India gets around 74.4 percent of its electricity from coal-fuelled power plants. Coal shortages are not new to the country – it faced a similar dearth last year – and are more on account of poor planning than any other reason. For instance, last year even though the coal had been dug out of the ground, it lay at the mine mouth and was then flooded under with rains just as demand for it shot up in other parts of the country. Another common problem is the fact that cash-strapped state-run power companies often don’t place coal orders in advance, leading to complaints of shortages when demand soars.

Some of these troubles arise from the fact that in India, electricity is used as political capital – political parties have over the decades offered free, or dirt-cheap, electricity to voters. But ultimately, the cost of that is being borne by the distributing companies as years of unpaid bills mount, leaving them no means to invest to upgrade infrastructure or place coal orders, among other things.

“Sooner or later the government needs to fix the more fundamental problems in the system,” said Ganesan. “Everyone is coughing up dollars [to import coal] because there’s no other option right now and we literally have to throw money at the problem … But instead of fixing the problem, we’re perpetuating it by throwing good money after bad.”

That said, the call to end coal cannot be one to say to stop investing in mining any coal at all. “We don’t want to transition to renewables in a disruptive way that we send people back 30 years…. Climate change is a reality and its impact – high temperatures and a need for air-conditioning – is also a reality,” Ganesan added.

India also needs to step up its renewables game, especially if it truly wants to pare its reliance on coal. As of April, it had 158.12GW of installed renewable energy – which it plans to ratchet up to 500GW by the end of the current decade, a questionable goal as it would need to add around 30GW of renewable power a year, double what it did last year.

INTERACTIVE_India_Coal_Shortage_1_17-05-2022-01

For now, it’s the privately run power companies – the ones that have been allowed to pass on the hike in tariffs to consumers – that are smiling their way to the bank, even after accounting for the increase in their costs of importing the coal.

Tata Power, for instance, will run at full capacity its 4,000MW ultra-mega power plant in Mundra in Gujarat – a plant that relies fully on imported coal. Similarly, Adani Power – a part of the diversified Adani Group, which is owned by Asia’s richest man, Gautam Adani – also has a 4,620MW plant in the same region that relies fully on imported coal. (Both companies have investments in renewable power and the latter has announced commitments of $70bn in it.) And even though the state-run distribution companies – the ones that will buy the electricity from these plants – are notorious for not paying on time, or even in full, the companies are still expected to see a boost in profits.

None of that makes any difference to Ishmail Mohammad, who runs a welding business in Hasanganj village. The first couple years of the COVID-19 pandemic devastated his business as many of the local residents – who earned their living by working on construction sites in big cities – had no income to pay him to install metal grills and gates as India implemented multiple lockdowns. Now the nearly 14-hour-long power cuts are just accentuating the pain, especially as prices for the diesel that he runs his generator on, too, have shot up.

“I just can’t work,” he told Al Jazeera. “I can’t even meet my expenses. What is one supposed to do?”





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