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Goldman Sachs Accused of Civil Fraud in Sale of Mortgage Securities

The Securities Exchange and Exchange Commission has filed a civil suit accusing the Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs of securities fraud for selling a mortgage investment that was established to fail. The investment consisted of pools of risky mortgages that had been packaged together. According to the SEC, the pools were picked by another Goldman client who was betting against their success. The client, John Paulson, made over $3.7 billion from the collapse of the housing market but is not named in the suit. The SEC’s Director of Enforcement, Robert Khuzami, said Goldman was in clear violation of disclosure rules.

Robert Khuzami: "The rule is that you need to play fair, need to provide the kind of proper and full disclosure that the securities laws require, or face the consequences."

Investors lost over $1 billion on the securities linked to the suit. The case marks the first time federal regulators have taken legal action against a Wall Street firm for profiting from the housing market crash.

NATO Killings of Afghan Civilians Increasing

In Afghanistan, new figures show the number of civilians killed by US-led NATO troops has more than doubled this year. NATO forces killed seventy-two civilians in the first three months of 2010, compared to twenty-nine during the same period in 2009.

Italian Aid Workers Freed Following Arrests

In other news from Afghanistan, three Italian aid workers have been released one week after their arrest by Afghan forces. The three work with the charity Emergency, which runs a series of hospitals in Afghanistan. They were detained on suspicion of involvement in a plot to kill a provincial governor, but the Afghan government says an investigation has since proven their innocence. One of the three, Marco Garatti, spoke out shortly after his release.

Marco Garatti: "We are very happy to be released, and we are very happy that our name, our own personal name, and the reputation of Emergency is clear and clean. This is why we are tremendously happy."

There has been some speculation the Emergency workers were targeted for speaking out against NATO and Afghan military actions that have harmed Afghan civilians. Earlier this year, another of the three aid workers, Matteo dell’Aira, appeared on Democracy Now! during the US assault on the town of Marjah.

Matteo dell’Aira: "Ninety percent of the victims are civilians, and 30 percent of this 90 are children. But I don’t think that the war is a solution for problems. I don’t think at all this. War is not a solution; it is just a tragedy, just a tragedy. And this, we can feel this tragedy every day, twenty-four hours per day, in our emergency room in our hospital."

Scores Killed in Pakistan Attacks

In Pakistan, around fifty people were killed this weekend in a pair of suicide attacks. On Sunday, seven people died and another twenty-one were wounded in a suicide car bombing of a police station in the northwestern city of Kohat. The attack came one day after at least forty-one people were killed and over sixty wounded at a nearby camp for Pakistani refugees.

Gates Acknowledges Iran Memo

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has acknowledged sending a classified memo earlier this year that reportedly warned the US lacks a strategy for dealing with Iran. On Saturday, the New York Times reported Gates had sent a memo in January that served as a "wake-up call" for the Obama administration to revisit its Iran strategy. Both Gates and the White House have acknowledged the memo but say it didn’t spark a major reassessment.

Iran: US Should Destroy Nuclear Arsenal, Withdraw Mideast Troops

Iran, meanwhile, continues to criticize the Obama administration’s stance. On Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on the US to withdraw all of its troops from the Gulf region and Afghanistan. His comments come one day after he called on the US to destroy its entire nuclear arsenal and said future disarmament talks should be run by states that don’t have atomic bombs.

Ecuador to Increase State Control of Oil Production

In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa has announced he’ll unveil legislation to reduce foreign control over Ecuadorian oil production. Correa announced the proposal Saturday in a televised address.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa: "We are sending a bill to Congress that would allow for the expropriation of oil fields should the companies not want to sign the new contracts. Every day that passes, there are millions of dollars going to these companies that should be going to the Ecuadorian state."

Ash Grounds European Flights for 5th Day

Most of Europe’s major airports remain closed for a fifth consecutive day due to a volcanic eruption emitting a cloud of ash from Iceland. Thousands of flights have been canceled since last week, stranding passengers making their way to and from Europe. Major airlines are pressuring European officials to drop the flight restrictions as the ash clears. But aviation officials in countries including Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands say their airspace will remain closed at least through today. President Obama was among those whose travels plans were disrupted by the volcanic ash. The White House canceled Obama’s scheduled trip to Poland on Sunday for the funeral of Polish president Lech Kaczynski.

Toyota Agrees to $16.4M Fine for Hiding Pedal Defects

The auto giant Toyota has agreed to a $16.4 million fine for hiding safety flaws in pedals sold in over two million vehicles. The fine is the most allowed by law and would be the largest ever paid by an automaker. It could have totaled over $13 billion if not for the $16.4 million dollar cap. The Transportation Department says it’s considering imposing a second maximum fine over another set of defects related to the pedals.

Widow of Miner Files Wrongful Death Suit Against Massey

A widow of one of the twenty-nine people killed in the West Virginia mining disaster earlier this month has filed a wrongful death suit against the mine’s owner, Massey Energy. The suit from Marlene Griffith accuses Massey of aggravated conduct in its handling of working conditions and safety violations at the mine. The Upper Big Branch explosion was the worst mining disaster in forty years. Massey Energy has been cited for thousands of safety violations in recent years, with fifty-seven citations just last month.

Group Challenges Revised Surveillance Law

A group of journalists, attorneys and human rights activists are challenging revisions to US surveillance laws that they say are hampering their ability to do their work. On Friday, members of the group told a federal appeals court they’ve been forced to forgo communicating by phone or email out of fear of government surveillance. The revised 2008 surveillance law dropped a requirement that the government identify the subjects of its surveillance. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch says she’s made three recent trips to meet former CIA prisoners in Jordan to avoid speaking to them by phone.

Court Limits NSA Data Collection

In other domestic spy news, the Washington Post is reporting the National Security Agency has stopped collecting certain forms of data after objections from the federal court overseeing domestic surveillance. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had raised concerns over the how the NSA collects records, but not the content, of different forms of communication.

5 Ex-Blackwater Execs Charged in Weapons Case

And federal prosecutors have filed weapons charges against five former top officials at the private military firm Blackwater. The five were charged Friday for their alleged roles in illegally stockpiling automatic weapons at Blackwater’s North Carolina headquarters. The defendants include former Blackwater president Gary Jackson and former Blackwater counsel Andrew Howell.

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