SHANGHAI (AP) — The man unveiled as principal owner of the warehouses at the center of deadly blasts in Tianjin also is on the board of a state-owned company that is ultimately controlled by the same powerful entity investigating the explosions, an Associated Press review of public documents found.
Corporate filings show that Yu Xuewei, the silent majority shareholder of Ruihai International Logistics, sits on the board of directors of a subsidiary of China Sinochem, one of the country’s most influential conglomerates. Like other large state companies, Sinochem is controlled by the State Council, the central authority overseeing the investigation into last week’s explosions at Ruihai’s chemical warehouses that killed at least 114 people and displaced thousands.
Yu’s connections hint at the extent of his political network and showcase the complexity of China’s political system, in which the entity running an investigation can be linked to the company it is investigating. Major state-owned Chinese companies often are accused of ignoring safety and other regulations, especially Cabinet-level enterprises whose chief executives have a higher status in the ruling Communist Party hierarchy than the regulators who are supposed to oversee them.
The subsidiary where Yu serves as a director, Tianjin Port Sinochem Dangerous Goods Logistics Co., also has been accused of violating safety standards at its own hazmat warehouses. The environmental group Greenpeace released an investigation this week saying Tianjin Port Sinochem and its sister company, Sinochem Tianjin Binhai Logistic Corp., operated hazardous chemical warehouses less than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) from a major highway, schools and residences, in violation of Chinese safety laws.
China Sinochem has tried to distance itself from Ruihai. Two days after the explosions it published a statement acknowledging that former staff members worked at Ruihai, but disavowing any deeper links. Sinochem wrote that Ruihai “has no relationship with Sinochem or its affiliated companies” and that former employees had “all long terminated employment” with Sinochem and its affiliates.
Current corporate records, however, show that Yu was a director Tianjin Port Sinochem even after he founded Ruihai. Those records, filed with the Administration for Industry and Commerce in Tianjin, were last updated in February and no subsequent changes to the board have been recorded. The majority owner of Sinochem Logistics is Sinochem Tianjin Co., a subsidiary of China Sinochem, AIC records show.
Attempts to reach Sinochem for comment Thursday were unsuccessful. No one at Tianjin Port Sinochem answered the phone. Sinochem Tianjin Binhai Logistic Corp. referred questions to the Sinochem Group. Calls, emails and a text message to Sinochem’s spokesman were not returned.
Yu admitted to using his political influence to get around safety norms in an interview published Wednesday by the state-run Xinhua News Agency, which was granted exclusive access to him in detention. He said he masked his affiliation with Ruihai by registering his 55 percent stake in the name of his wife’s cousin.
The now-destroyed Ruihai warehouses violated Chinese law because they were less than 600 meters (2,000 feet) from a large housing complex, highway and light rail station — and for other reasons. Ruihai was licensed to warehouse hazardous chemicals only through Oct. 16, 2014, according to Administration for Industry and Commerce records. Ruihai obtained a port license in June 2015 that again allowed them to work with dangerous chemicals, but in the interim handled hazmat without a license, according to Xinhua. Ruihai also failed to file annual reports in 2013 and 2014, according to its filings.
Yu owns Ruihai with Dong Shexuan, whose father used to be chief of police at Tianjin Port and put his shares in the name of a schoolmate, according to Xinhua. Both men have been detained by police.
Dong told Xinhua, “My connections cover police and fire, and Yu Xuewei’s connections cover work safety, port management, customs, maritime affairs, environmental protection.”
Despite such stark revelations in China’s official media, the full web of interlocking interests and ownership behind Ruihai remains murky. The scope of published investigations has been largely restricted to Ruihai’s local power network. Reports in Chinese media exploring Ruihai’s connection with Sinochem have been censored.
Sinochem, founded one year after the People’s Republic of China itself was born, has interests in energy, agriculture, chemicals, real estate and financial services. Sinochem said in its latest annual report that it has 50,000 employees and more than 300 subsidiaries.
The State Council, China’s cabinet, has set up a panel to investigate the accident, which has sparked public outrage at regulatory and safety lapses and gross chemical contamination in one of China’s largest cities.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the political response has spiraled to the top levels of power. President Xi Jinping and other top leaders of the ruling Communist Party put out a statement calling the blasts “a profound lesson paid with blood” and vowed to punish those responsible, the People’s Daily reported Friday.
The government has been struggling to manage signs of deep-seated frustration about the powerful and well-connected using their status to flout rules and endanger the public. Media coverage has been tightly monitored and censorship of social media commentary has surged. Many of those impacted were middle-class homeowners who had bought into Beijing’s vision of Tianjin as a rising economic gateway to China’s northeast.
“If our homes are gone how can we have the faith to support and love the party or the country?” said Niu Guijun, who purchased a home near the blast site in 2013.
Ruihai’s links to the State Council illustrate the overlapping corporate, political and regulatory interests that are the norm in China’s one-party system.
“Who tries to monitor how the industry works — regulators — government officers who develop safety policy, and also the commercial business owners, all these interests are mixed,” said Fu King-wa, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Center. “I think a lot of people find this a problem, but there’s no channel to try and execute reform in a political manner.”
Yu and the reported frontman for his shares in Ruihai, Li Liang, played roles in at least four other companies, according to Chinese and Hong Kong corporate filings.
Though Yu Xuewei’s name does not appear in Ruihai’s corporate filings in China, Hong Kong records show that he set up a company called Hong Kong Ruihai International Logistics Co. Ltd. in January 2013, less than two months after Ruihai Logistics was registered in Tianjin. Many mainland companies also register in Hong Kong to facilitate trade financing.
AIC records also name Yu as a board member of Tianjin Henglu Biopharmaceutical Technology Co. Ltd., which was set up in January 2014 to do development and consulting work and sell chemicals, though not hazardous ones.
Associated Press video journalist Paul Traynor contributed to this report from Tianjin.
BANGKOK (AP) — Somber horns sounded Friday at the site of Bangkok’s deadly bomb blast as officials joined a multi-religious ceremony for victims of this week’s attack, the latest effort to show that the bustling capital was respectfully, if cautiously, moving on.
Four days after the explosion at the revered Erawan Shrine, at one of the capital’s busiest intersections, there were few solid leads into the perpetrators of the deadliest attack in Thailand’s recent history. Police were still searching for the prime suspect seen in a security video and on Thursday cleared two other men initially believed to be suspects.
In a sign of the concern over more attacks, bomb-sniffing dogs checked the shrine ahead of Friday’s morning ceremony, where government officials and diplomats laid floral bouquets. A Brahmin priest poured holy water over the damaged face of the shrine’s centerpiece, a four-headed statue of the Hindu god Brahma that is now missing one chin.
But other signs of the blast have been quickly removed: Overnight, workers soldered new iron railings to replace those twisted by Monday night’s explosion. The crater left by the blast has been paved over with fresh cement.
After the Hindu ceremony at the shrine, officials held rites for the victims in a multi-religious prayer ceremony attended by Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim priests and representatives.
Among the 20 people killed, Thai authorities have identified six victims as Thai and four as Malaysians, along with four mainland Chinese, two people from Hong Kong including a British citizen, one Indonesian and one Singaporean. Two victims remain unidentified.
The attack has raised concerns about safety in a city that draws millions of tourists, but life has returned to normal quickly. Subways and shopping malls were bustling and aside from bag inspections at stores and hotel entrances, there was little visible extra security. Authorities say security has been tightened citywide mainly with plain clothed officers.
Authorities made confusing statements Thursday about the investigation, with a military spokesman saying they believe the attack wasn’t the work of international terrorists — a day after police issued an arrest warrant for the prime suspect that described him as a “foreign man.”
So far the firmest clue comes from security camera footage that shows a young man in a yellow T-shirt leaving a backpack at the crowded shrine. Time stamps on the video show he left the temple about 15 minutes before the explosion.
Two other people seen on the video near the man with the backpack were initially considered suspects but cleared Thursday after one of them turned himself in and said he was a tour guide and the other was a Chinese tourist, said national police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri.
The two men were seen in the video standing in front of the prime suspect as he removed a backpack and placed it on a bench at the crowded shrine shortly before the blast.
Police have released a sketch of the man with the backpack — depicting him as a young man with eyeglasses and bushy, black hair — and offered a 2 million baht ($56,000) reward for clues leading to his arrest. A warrant issued Wednesday describes him as a “foreign man.”
But on Thursday, a military spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree cast doubt on an international connection.
“Security agencies have collaborated with intelligence agencies from allied countries and have come to the same preliminary conclusion that the incident is unlikely to be linked to international terrorism,” Winthai said in a televised statement. He added that Chinese tourists, who were among the victims, were not the “direct target.”
When contacted by telephone for clarification, he said that a link to global terrorism hadn’t been ruled out. “We still have to investigate in more detail,” he said.
Separately, national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung said Thursday police suspect the plot involved at least 10 people but described that figure as speculative.
“I didn’t say there are 10 suspects. I said theoretically they need more than 10 people,” he said.
The speculation was based on the nature of the attack, Somyot said, which must have planned it in advance, maybe a month ahead of time, and would have needed a site inspection team, bomb makers, bombers and an escape team.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, sparking a variety of theories into who might be behind it. One is that the blast was a revenge attack related to Thailand’s recent deportation to China of more than 100 Uighur Muslims, or that it could have been carried out by Islamist groups expanding their reach in Southeast Asia.
Other speculation points closer to home. Muslim separatists have been waging a low-level but deadly insurgency in southern Thailand since 2004, leaving more than 5,000 people dead, but virtually all their attacks have been confined to the southernmost provinces.
Though there has been little violence aimed at Thailand’s coup, whose leaders have cracked down on dissent, the “Red Shirt” movement that supported the ousted elected government clashed with the military in 2010 protests that left about 90 people dead. There could even be infighting within the army ahead of an annual military reshuffle.
Associated Press journalists Grant Peck, Tassanee Vejpongsa and Penny Yi Wang contributed to this report.
VIENNA (AP) — An AP report has revealed that the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency has agreed with Iran that Iranian experts and equipment will be used to inspect Iran’s Parchin military site, located not far from Tehran, where Iran is suspected of conducting covert nuclear weapons activity more than a decade ago.
Here are some questions and answers about the document, and what it means for the larger deal between Iran, the United States and five other world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for easing sanctions against Iran.
WHAT HAVE IRAN AND THE IAEA AGREED?
According to a draft document viewed by AP, Iran has agreed to cooperate with the U.N. in answering longstanding allegations about possible past work to develop nuclear weapons at its Parchin plant — but only with the Iranians conducting the inspections themselves. Iran would collect its own environmental samples on the site and carry out other work usually done by IAEA experts. The IAEA will be able to review the Iranians’ work after the fact. The deal on Parchin was between the IAEA and Iran. The Obama Administration was not a direct party to the agreement, but apparently was aware of it.
WHAT DO OPPONENTS OF THE DEAL SAY?
Opponents of the broader deal are seizing an opportunity to say the entire exercise of negotiating with Iran is flawed, that it relies too much on trust of the Iranian government.
WHAT DOES THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION SAY?
The Obama administration and other supporters say the wider agreement say it is focused on the future, with ample inspections, and that the side accord between Iran and the IAEA is focused on Iran’s activities in the past and therefore is not central to the overall deal.
HOW UNUSUAL IS THE AGREEMENT ON PARCHIN?
Any IAEA inspection of a country suspected of nuclear irregularities is usually carried out by agency experts. They may take swipes of residue on equipment, sample the air or take soil samples in attempts to look for signs of clandestine work on atomic arms or other potentially dangerous unreported activity.
The document on Parchin, however, will let the Iranians themselves look for signs of the very activity they deny — past work on nuclear weapons. It says “Iran will provide” the agency with environmental samples. It restricts the number of samples at the suspect site to seven and to an unspecified number “outside of the Parchin complex” at a site that still needs to be decided.
The U.N. agency will take possession of the samples for testing, as usual. Iran will also provide photos and video of locations to be inspected. But the document suggests that areas of sensitive military activity remain out of bounds. The draft says the IAEA will “ensure the technical authenticity of the activities” carried out by the Iranians — but it does not say how.
In contrast, the main nuclear deal with Iran gives IAEA experts greatly expanded authority compared to what it has now to monitor Iranian nuclear activities as it works to ensure that Tehran is hewing to its commitments; reducing the scope and output of programs that Iran says it needs to generate energy but which can also be turned to making the fissile core of atomic weapons.
WHY IS THE PARCHIN AGREEMENT IMPORTANT?
Any indication that the IAEA is diverging from established inspection rules could weaken the agency, the world’s nuclear watchdog with 164 members, and feed suspicions that it is ready to overly compromise in hopes of winding up a probe that has essentially been stalemated for more than a decade.
Politically, the arrangement has been grist for American opponents of the broader separate agreement to limit Iran’s future nuclear programs, signed by the Obama administration, Iran and five world powers in July. Critics have complained that the wider deal is built on trust of the Iranians, while the administration has insisted it depends on reliable inspections.
The separate agreement on past nuclear activities does not affect the broader deal signed in July. And it doesn’t appear yet that the revelation will change any votes in Congress for or against a resolution of disapproval, which President Barack Obama is expected to veto if it passes.
HOW DID THIS AGREEMENT HAPPEN?
It could be a matter of priorities.
The Obama administration’s main focus in the broader Iran deal — signed by the U.S., Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — is crimping Iran’s present nuclear activities so they cannot be used in the future toward making a bomb. Faced with more than a decade of Iranian resistance to IAEA attempts to probe the allegations of past weapons work at Parchin, there may be a willingness to settle for an agency report that is less than definitive — and methods that deviate from usual practices.
The IAEA also appears to have recognized that Iran will continue to insist the allegations are lies, based on false U.S., Israeli and other intelligence. After a decade of stalemate it wants to close the books on the issue and allow the U.N. Security Council to do so as well.
The alternative might well have been no inspection at Parchin any kind.
WHAT DOES THE IAEA SAY?
Director General Yukiya Amano says, “The arrangements are technically sound and consistent with our long-established practices. They do not compromise our … standards in any way.” He says agreements with Iran on clearing up the nuclear arms allegations “are confidential and I have a legal obligation not to make them public – the same obligation I have for hundreds of such arrangements made with other IAEA member states.”
WHAT DO OTHERS SAY?
Ned Price, spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House: “We are confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program, issues that in some cases date back more than a decade. Just as importantly, the IAEA is comfortable with the arrangements, which are unique to the agency’s investigation of Iran’s historical activities.”
Olli Heinonen, in charge of the Iran investigation as IAEA deputy director general from 2005 through 2010, says he can think of no similar arrangement — a country essentially allowed to carry out much of the probe of suspicions against it.
HOW CRUCIAL IS PARCHIN TO THE OVERALL DEAL?
U.S. intelligence officials do not consider the Parchin inspections a critical part of the broader deal, according to one official, commenting only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be quoted. The U.S. believes most weapons work occurred there in 2003, the official says, and the site has been thoroughly cleaned up since then.
AP Intelligence Writer Ken Dilanian contributed to this report.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The quality of San Juan River water on the Navajo Nation has returned to what it was before a spill at a Colorado gold mine sent toxic sludge into the waterway, federal officials said Thursday.
The testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency along with that of the Navajo EPA has prompted tribal President Russell Begaye to consider lifting an advisory against using the river to water crops.
Begaye has said he would not advise hundreds of farmers on the Navajo Nation to do so until the tribe’s own testing declared the river safe.
Those results will be provided at a meeting later in the day with farmers in Shiprock, New Mexico, tribal spokesman Mihio Manus said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said testing of surface water collected over a week in Hogback, New Mexico, showed water quality at the same levels as those measured before the mine waste reached the reservation. The agency has taken full responsibility for the Aug. 5 spill at the Gold King Mine.
Manus said Begaye will talk with farmers about flushing irrigation canals and possibly opening them up this weekend. The EPA said it will provide technical assistance.
Hundreds of Navajos farm along the San Juan River grow squash, melons, corn and other crops to sustain their families and to sell at roadside stands and a tribal fair in October in Shiprock.
After the spill, federal agencies, including the EPA and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, arranged for water to be hauled to tribal communities and hay to be delivered for livestock.
Not all the water has been welcomed.
Shiprock farm board member Joe Ben Jr. complained that water coming from tanks delivered by an EPA contractor contained oil and didn’t smell right.
Begaye and Navajo Attorney General Ethel Branch went to Shiprock to look at the tanks a day after farmers voted to reject the water. Branch and Begaye placed their hands inside the area where hoses hook up to the tanks, and their hands came out partially black, according to a video the president’s office posted on its Facebook page.
“That is clearly oil,” Branch said. “We don’t trust the EPA to be here. They need to get out of our nation, send the dollars directly here. Let us take care of these issues ourselves because we care about the health and welfare of our people.”
Manus said tribal officials were testing the water from three of the tanks that were being held by tribal police.
The EPA said it would provide an alternate water source from within the reservation but didn’t directly address questions regarding the holding tanks. One EPA contractor, Triple S Trucking, said the tanks were cleaned before being delivered to the reservation.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Begaye spoke Wednesday about water quality in the river and agreed to have EPA cease water deliveries Friday for agricultural use on the reservation, the EPA and Manus said. The agency said it would work with the Navajo Nation on a monitoring plan for the river.
Ben said he wouldn’t support a return to using the canals to water crops because not enough is known about the impact to the soil.
Messages left with farm board members in Hogback and Cudeii, two other tribal communities where farmers rely on river water, weren’t immediately returned.
“The testing that was done was surface testing, no subsurface testing, also sediment testing,” Ben said. “And never any information about the long-term and short-term effects of these toxins in our water.”
New Mexico environment officials said Thursday they are planning another water-testing fair for residents next week and the results from previous tests have been mailed to about 570 private well owners.
Those tests didn’t focus on heavy metals, but officials said the results of more extensive testing of more than 100 wells in the Animas valley will be released by the EPA in the coming weeks.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Netflix is getting jeered for excluding the employees in its DVD-by-mail service from a recently introduced benefit that gives up to a year of paid leave to most of its workers after the birth or adoption of a baby.
At least three online petitions posted by activist groups are urging Netflix to extend the baby benefit beyond the roughly 2,000 workers in the Internet video service that generates most of its revenue.
Netflix has about 450 temporary, part- and full-time employees in its steadily shrinking but still profitable DVD division.
The protesting groups contend Netflix is unfairly favoring the mostly high-paid computer programmers and other technology specialists working in its Internet video service over the lower-paid employees who sort through discs and stuff envelopes in the distribution centers that receive and send DVDs.
Many of the DVD workers are paid by the hour and make a fraction of the six-figure salaries doled out to many of the Internet video service employees. Netflix pay varies widely, ranging from $15 per hour for customer-service representatives to more than $200,000 annually for software engineers, according to information shared by company workers on employer review website Glassdoor.com.
“Netflix is leaving workers who could benefit the most from a generous paid leave policy behind and that is offensive,” said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, a women’s rights group.
Netflix says its DVD employees get bigger paychecks and better benefits than people in comparable jobs. “We are regularly reviewing policies across our business to ensure they are competitive and help us attract and keep the best employees,” the Los Gatos, California, company said in a statement.
Besides UltraViolet, the two other groups pressuring Netflix about the limits on its parental leave policy are: Coworker.org, which fights for workers’ rights; and Democracy for America, a political organization founded by Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a one-time candidate for president.
Democracy for America sent emails Thursday urging its members to challenge Netflix for discriminating against its DVD workers.
“A worker’s ability to care for their family should not be dependent on what department they work in,” wrote Mia Moore, Democracy for America’s chief of staff.
When it announced its new baby benefit earlier this month to widespread acclaim, Netflix initially said the policy would apply to all its full-time workers. It wasn’t until a few days later that Netflix revealed that DVD workers would not be eligible, after all.
Although it once was the Netflix’s focal point, the DVD rental service has become a company afterthought as more households have embraced the concept of streaming video over high-speed Internet connections. Netflix now has more than 65 million worldwide subscribers to its Internet video service compared to 5.3 million DVD customers — less than half the number that it had three-and-half-years ago.
This story has been corrected to read that the benefit is paid leave, not unpaid leave
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — A gunman shot into a crowd that gathered outside the Rochester Boys and Girls Club after a basketball game, killing three people and wounding four others in what Gov. Andrew Cuomo called “a deplorable act of violence.”
The drive-by shooting happened at about 11:20 p.m. Wednesday as people milled about outside the club, which is across the street from a school. Police said there was no problem at the club before the shooting.
“A fun and peaceful basketball tournament at the Boys and Girls Club ended with laughing as people walked home, but soon turned into a bloodbath because someone thought it was OK to open fire into the crowd,” Mayor Lovely Warren said at a news conference Thursday with Police Chief Michael Ciminelli.
Officials have not yet released the names of the victims. The injured, all men in their 20s, have gunshot wounds that don’t appear to be life-threatening, police said.
“Local authorities are working to bring the perpetrators of this hateful act to justice, and my administration stands ready to assist them in any way possible,” Cuomo said in a statement.
A $10,000 reward was offered Thursday for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
The mayor and police chief warned against retaliation, urging witnesses and others to report anything they know to police.
“We understand emotions run high,” Ciminelli said. “More violence is not the answer to a violent act.”
Warren said the shooting followed a “peace rally” earlier in the day that involved the city’s Pathways to Peace program intended to discourage the use of violence in settling disputes.
“Hours later, three young men are dead and four more are wounded,” Warren said. “Two of the young men who were killed last night were engaged in our Pathways to Peace program: Young men who were trying to turn their lives around. Young men who had promise and who we believed we could help and we could save from this culture of violence.”
A large crowd gathered early Thursday near the scene of the shooting as family and friends of the victims consoled each other.
Police put out a call for surveillance or cellphone video, promising anonymity if requested. Ciminelli said about 100 people had been at the basketball game and an estimated 25 to 30 were still outside the club when the shooting erupted.
He declined to discuss a possible motive.
“We are bringing every resource that we have to bear on this,” he said. “We will run this down and find out who did this. This was an outrageous act. We intend to find out who did it and bring them to justice.”
The executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Rochester, said the shooting happened about 20 minutes after the club-sponsored basketball game ended.
“The safe haven for our members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Rochester has been compromised by this horrific incident” Dwayne Mahoney said in a statement.
He expressed hope “this heinous crime will be quickly solved.”