COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — For years, authorities in Sri Lanka have tried to rid the Indian Ocean island nation of illegal drugs, even attempting to lift a decades-old moratorium on the death penalty to be able to execute drug offenders.
But a drug ring allegedly including more than a dozen officers from a key national narcotics unit has exposed how much of a challenge that goal brings. It also has cast further doubt on a police force that has struggled to restore its public image after years of fighting for the government against the rebel Tamil Tigers in the country’s long civil war that ended in 2009.
The ring allegedly involved officers from the Police Narcotic Bureau who smuggled illicit drugs into the country by sea, stored them in safe houses, ran fake raids and then siphoned off a portion of the seizures to sell to drug dealers, pocketing millions in profits.
Nearly two dozen suspects — most of them narcotics officers — have been detained so far, and an arrest warrant was issued this week for the ring’s alleged mastermind, who is said to be hiding overseas.
“This is the first time a big incident like this has taken place in the history of our police,” Sri Lanka’s attorney general, Dappula de Livera, said in a televised speech, adding that it has “eroded public confidence in the police.”
Sri Lanka, located off the southern tip of India, is used by international drug traffickers as a transit hub, according to authorities, but the drugs passing through the country have left a serious addiction problem in their wake.
According to Justice Minister Ali Sabry, some 553,000 people — about 2.5% of the population — are addicted, which means one in every 40 people in the country is a drug addict.
Authorities also say that nearly 60% of Sri Lanka’s 30,000 inmates are in prison for drug-related offenses, crowding facilities built to accommodate only 11,700. Drug-related court cases have gone up from 6,600 in 2015 to 16,000 last year.
“This is an alarming situation and we will eradicate the drug menace from this land,” Sabry said.
Police said they uncovered the ring involving the officers after a separate police narcotics unit seized 225 kilograms (496 pounds) of heroin on May 15 from a house in Welisara, a small town about 21 kilometers (13 miles) north of Colombo, the capital.
Four civilian suspects were immediately arrested. A fifth suspect, a businessman believed to have played a key role in the ring, was picked up a month later in Minuwangoda, a town about 43 kilometers (27 miles) north of Colombo.
The businessman then told authorities about a group of narcotics officers involved in the ring, according to police.
In all, 18 officers from the Police Narcotic Bureau have been detained, along with five civilians.
On Monday, a court in Colombo issued an arrest warrant for the alleged ringleader, Udara Sampath, who is believed to be in the United Arab Emirates.
“This is not a new thing,” said Kusal Perera, a political analyst in Colombo. “On previous occasions too, some senior police officers faced allegations of having links with drug smugglers. But this is the first time we have direct evidence to establish the collaboration between law enforcement officials and drug dealers.”
According to investigation, the officers would meet international drug smugglers in fishing boats out in the Indian Ocean and help bring drugs to safe houses in Sri Lanka. A portion of the drugs would then be sold to dealers, and the rest would later be seized in raids by the officers, the attorney general department’s deputy solicitor general, Dileepa Peiris, told a Colombo court.
In one raid that investigators said was typical of the ring, the narcotics officers seized 243 kilograms (536 pounds) of heroine smuggled by sea — skimming 43 kilograms (95 pounds) to sell to traffickers and presenting authorities with only 200 kilograms (441 pounds), said police spokesperson Jaliya Senaratna.
Adding insult to injury, during the three years the ring operated, the narcotics officers involved won cash awards and commendations from the government for making major drug busts, some of which were found to have been staged, according to the investigation.
Police say the officers amassed more than half a million dollars in assets, including land, vehicles and jewelry. Investigators found around 30 million Sri Lankan rupees (about $163,000) buried under some of the suspects’ land.
“We highly condemn these acts by a handful of officers,” said Ajitha Rohana, a senior officer with the national police. “We will strictly enforce the law. We will expedite investigations and our intention is to complete this probe before all other investigations.”
Rohana added that if the officers are convicted, his department would ask that they are sentenced to death. The death penalty has not been carried out in Sri Lanka since 1976.
Former Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena made an unsuccessful attempt to end the decades-long moratorium on capital punishment and implement the death penalty for those convicted of drug offenses, calling the issue a “social catastrophe.”
Since his successor, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, was elected to office last November, police and security forces have intensified their crackdown on drugs, with suspects arrested almost daily.
But it remains an uphill battle. Perera, the political analyst, said the officers allegedly involved in the ring were hardly alone.
“When corruption is rampant, if anyone thinks that the narcotics bureau is clean and honest, it would have to be a joke,” he said.
US military increasingly using drone missile with flying blades in Syria
The US military is making increasing use in Syria of a gruesome and secretive non-explosive drone missile that deploys flying blades to kill its targets.
Described as less likely to kill non-combatants, the so-called ninja bomb – whose development was first disclosed last year – has been used a number of times in the last year to kill militants in Syria, including those linked to aal-Qaida, most recently earlier this month.
Officially designated as the Hellfire AGM-114R9X – usually shortened to R9X and sometimes know as the “Flying Ginsu” – the weapon has been increasingly deployed in targeted assassinations by the US Joint Special Operations Command.
The missile, believed to have been first used in 2017 to kill al-Qaida’s then No 2 leader, Abu Khayr al Masri, in Idlib province, first came to wider attention when its existence was disclosed by an article in the Wall Street Journal last year.
The weapon uses a combination of the force of 100lb of dense material flying at high speed and six attached blades which deploy before impact to crush and slice its victims.
Video that emerged in June this year, posted by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, appeared to show the remains of one of the missiles used in a strike on a vehicle, also in Syria’s Idlib that killed a Jordanian and Yemen, both reportedly members of Hurras al-Din, a group affiliated with aal-Qaida.
The weapon is believed to have been developed during the administration of Barack Obama at a time when the US policy of targeted drone assassinations attracted considerable criticism for the number of civilian casualties caused by the strikes.
Since its deployment it has been used sparingly, apparently most often in Syria.
According to the New York Times the most recent use of the missile was on 14 September, when it was reportedly used to kill Sayyaf al-Tunsi, a Tunisian.
Observers have speculated that the increasing use of the weapon in Syria – which increasingly has targeted leadership members of al-Qaida’s affiliates – has been driven by the complexities of operations in Syria where the US is required to work around a large Russian engagement.
Related: Deadly clash in Syria a vivid reminder of US troops’ ill-defined mission
The bladed, non-explosive version of the Hellfire missile is the latest iteration of a weapon that has undergone several variations since it was used to weaponize previously unarmed Predator drones in around 2000.
The first Hellfires were designed as tank busters with a powerful shaped charge, used in Afghanistan for which they were regarded as not entirely suitable.
A later version was developed that carried a heavier explosive warhead , but which led in turn to issues with civilian casualties, leading to the development of the R9X.
Up until May last year, it is believed that the weapon had been used no more than half a dozen times. But since then it appears to have been used increasingly more often.
The new missile appears designed for use in circumstances where a more conventional explosive missile might not be considered for fears of killing non-combatants.
While conceding that the weapon appeared to be less dangerous to civilians, Iain Overton of Action on Armed Violence warned against the impression that it was a “more humanitarian weapon”.
“This weapon, whilst only used only a handful of times, does appear to have less wide-area effects than other air-dropped explosive weapons.
“However, the vast majority of the US explosive arsenal does, all too often, cause terrible collateral damage. Given Trump’s administration also authorised the use of the largest non-nuclear explosion in the history of the world in Afghanistan, it’s important to be wary of the PR optics that the US military is now using ‘humanitarian’ weapons.”
Overton also underlined issues with a targeted assassination campaign – using any weapons – that had little oversight.
“This new weapon, framed as an alternative to larger bombs, might be sold as almost ethical, but if it side-steps due judicial process, and is as susceptible to wrong targeting as other strikes, it is no more than an assassin’s blade wielded by a state rarely held to account for its actions.”
‘Family Guy’ Casts YouTube Star Arif Zahir as the New Voice of Cleveland Brown
Arif Zahir has gone from impersonating “Family Guy’s” Cleveland Brown on YouTube… to being cast as the new voice of the character on the actual show.
Zahir will take over as Cleveland in Season 19, as the show has just been picked up for two more seasons (its 19th and 20th) and episodes are now going into production. He takes over from Mike Henry, who created the character and voiced it since “Family Guy” premiered in 1999 (and later on the spin-off “The Cleveland Show”).
In June, Henry announced that he would step down from playing Cleveland: “I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color,” he said at the time.
Henry will continue to be heard as Cleveland in this year’s Season 18 “Family Guy” episodes, which had already been completed and return on Sunday night with the show’s 350th episode. But series creator and executive producer Seth MacFarlane and showrunners Rich Appel and Alec Sulkin announced on Friday that Zahir would take over as Cleveland moving forward.
“Arif’s vocal talent is obvious, but his understanding of Cleveland and his respect for the character give me confidence that he is in the right hands,” Henry said. “I look forward to getting to know Arif and working with him to make sure Cleveland stays every bit as awesome as he has always been.”
Known on YouTube as “Azerrz,” Zahir does video impressions of President Obama, Cleveland Brown, Donald Trump and Kendrick Lamar (among others), and has 6.25 million subscribers. His video “Hit Rap Songs in Voice Impressions,” which features him reimagining “Sicko Mode” as sung by Cleveland, has attracted 14.2 million views; another one from 2017 featuring Cleveland performing hit rap songs garnered 6.5 million views.
In June, after Henry announced he was giving up the role as Cleveland, Zahir made a TikTok video offering up his services (and tagging Henry on Twitter to hopefully see it).
“When I heard that Mike Henry was stepping down from the role of Cleveland Brown — my favorite cartoon character of all time — I was shocked and saddened, assuming we’d never see him again,” Zahir said. “When I learned I would get to take over the role? Overabundant gratitude. To Mike, you created something truly special and I promise I will do my absolute best to honor your legacy. To Rich Appel, Alec Sulkin and Seth MacFarlane, thank you for this incredible gift. And to the millions of fans who love this show, I promise not to let you down.”
The news of Zahir’s hiring comes a day after Variety broke the news that actor Alex Désert had taken over the role of Carl Carlson on “The Simpsons” season opener. Carl, who is Black, had been voiced by Hank Azaria. But earlier this summer, “The Simpsons” announced that BIPOC characters would now be played by performers of color.
In June, as the conversation about representation on TV extended to animation, Henry said he would no longer voice Cleveland, while Kristen Bell also stepped down from plating the biracial character Molly on “Central Park” and Jenny Slate said she wouldn’t continue to play Missy, also a biracial character, on Netflix’s “Big Mouth.” Emily Raver-Lampman will now play Molly in Season 2 of “Central Park,” while Ayo Edebiri has been tapped to voice Missy moving forward on “Big Mouth.”
Zahir is repped by CAA.
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3 ‘Strong Buy’ Stocks With Over 7% Dividend Yield
Markets are volatile, there can be no doubt. So far this month, the S&P 500 has fallen 9% from its peak. The tech-heavy NASDAQ, which had led the gainers all summer, is now leading the on the fall, having lost 11% since September 2. The three-week tumble has investors worried that we may be on the brink of another bear market.The headwinds are strong. The usual September swoon, the upcoming election, doubts about another round of economic stimulus – all are putting downward pressure on the stock markets.Which doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities. As the old saw goes, “Bulls and bears can both make money, while the pigs get slaughtered.” A falling market may worry investors, but a smart strategy can prevent the portfolio from losing too much long-term value while maintaining a steady income. Dividend stocks, which feed into the income stream, can be a key part of such a strategy.Using the data available in the TipRanks database, we’ve pulled up three stocks with high yields – from 7% to 11%, or up to 6 times the average dividend found on the S&P 500 index. Even better, these stocks are seen as Strong Buys by Wall Street’s analysts. Let’s find out why.Williams Companies (WMB)We start with Williams Companies, an Oklahoma-based energy company. Williams controls pipelines connecting Rocky Mountain natural gas fields with the Pacific Northwest region, and Appalachian and Texan fields with users in the Northeast and transport terminals on the Gulf Coast. The company’s primary operations are the processing and transport of natural gas, with additional ops in crude oil and energy generation. Williams handles nearly one-third of all US commercial and residential natural gas use.The essential nature of Williams’ business – really, modern society simply cannot get along without reliable energy sources – has insulated the company from some of the economic turndown in 1H20. Quarterly revenues slid from $2.1 billion at the end of last year to $1.9 billion in Q1 and $1.7 billion in Q2. EPS in the first half was 26 cents for Q1 and 25 cents for Q2 – but this was consistent with EPS results for the previous three quarters. The generally sound financial base supported the company’s reliable dividend. Williams has been raising that payment for the past four years, and even the corona crisis could not derail it. At 40 cents per common share, the dividend annualizes to $1.60 and yields an impressive 7.7%. The next payment is scheduled for September 28.Truist analyst Tristan Richardson sees Williams as one of the midstream sector’s best positioned companies.“We continue to look to WMB as a defensive component of midstream and favor its 2H prospects as broader midstream grasps at recovery… Beyond 2020 we see the value proposition as a stable footprint with free cash flow generation even in the current environment. We also see room for incremental leverage reduction throughout our forecast period on scaled back capital plans and even with the stable dividend. We look for modestly lower capex in 2021, however unlike more G&P oriented midstream firms, we see a project backlog in downstream that should support very modest growth,” Richardson noted.Accordingly, Richardson rates WMB shares as a Buy, and his $26 price target implies a 30% upside potential from current levels. (To watch Richardson’s track record, click here)Overall, the Strong Buy analyst consensus rating on WMB is based on 11 Buy reviews against just a single Hold. The stock’s current share price is $19.91 and the average price target is $24.58, making the one-year upside potential 23%. (See WMB stock analysis on TipRanks)Magellan Midstream (MMP)The second stock on our list is another midstream energy company, Magellan. This is another Oklahoma-based firm, with a network of assets across much of the US from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi Valley, and into the Southeast. Magellan’s network transports crude oil and refined products, and includes Gulf Coast export shipping terminals.Magellan’s total revenues rose sequentially to $782.8 in Q1, and EPS came in at $1.28, well above the forecast. These numbers turned down drastically in Q2, as revenue fell to $460.4 million and EPS collapsed to 65 cents. The outlook for Q3 predicts a modest recovery, with EPS forecast at 85 cents. The company strengthened its position in the second quarter with an issue of 10-year senior notes, totaling $500 million, at 3.25%. This reduced the company’s debt service payments, and shored up liquidity, making possible the maintenance of the dividend.The dividend was kept steady at $1.0275 per common share quarterly. Annualized, this comes to $4.11, a good absolute return, and gives a yield of 11.1%, giving MMP a far higher return than Treasury bonds or the average S&P-listed stock.Well Fargo analyst Praneeth Satish believes that MMP has strong prospects for recovery. “[We] view near-term weakness in refined products demand as temporary and recovering. In the interim, MMP remains well positioned given its strong balance sheet and liquidity position, and ratable cash flow stream…” Satish goes on to note that the dividend appears secure for the near-term: “The company plans to maintain the current quarterly distribution for the rest of the year.”In line with this generally upbeat outlook, Satish gives MMP an Overweight (i.e. Buy) rating, and a $54 price target that implies 57% growth in the coming year. (To watch Satish’s track record, click here)Net net, MMP shares have a unanimous Strong Buy analyst consensus rating, a show of confidence by Wall Street’s analyst corps. The stock is selling for $33.44, and the average price target of $51.13 implies 53% growth in the year ahead. (See MMP stock analysis on TipRanks)Ready Capital Corporation (RC)The second stock on our list is a real estate investment trust. No surprise finding one of these in a list of strong dividend payers – REITs have long been known for their high dividend payments. Ready Capital, which focuses on the commercial mortgage niche of the REIT sector, has a portfolio of loans in real estate securities and multi-family dwellings. RC has provided more than $3 billion in capital to its loan customers.In the first quarter of this year, when the coronavirus hit, the economy turned south, and business came to a standstill, Ready Capital took a heavy blow. Revenues fell by 58%, and Q1 EPS came in at just one penny. Things turned around in Q2, however, after the company took measures – including increasing liquidity, reducing liabilities, and increasing involvement in government-sponsored lending – to shore up business. Revenues rose to $87 million and EPS rebounded to 70 cents.In the wake of the strong Q2 results, RC also started restoring its dividend. In Q1 the company had slashed the payment from 40 cents to 25 cents; in the most recent declaration, for an October 30 payment, the new dividend is set at 30 cents per share. This annualizes to $1.20 and gives a strong yield of 9.9%.Crispin Love, writing from Piper Sandler, notes the company’s success in getting back on track.“Given low interest rates, Ready Capital had a record $1.2B in residential mortgage originations versus our $1.1B estimate. Gain on sale margins were also at record levels. We are calculating gain on sale margins of 3.7%, up from 2.4% in 1Q20,” Love wrote.In a separate note, written after the dividend declaration, Love added, “We believe that the Board’s actions show an increased confidence for the company to get back to its pre-pandemic $0.40 dividend. In recent earnings calls, management has commented that its goal is to get back to stabilized earnings above $0.40, which would support a dividend more in-line with pre-pandemic levels.”To this end, Love rates RC an Overweight (i.e. Buy) along with a $12 price target, suggesting an upside of 14%. (To watch Love’s track record, click here)All in all, Ready Capital has a unanimous Strong Buy analyst consensus rating, based on 4 recent positive reviews. The stock has an average price target of $11.50, which gives a 9% upside from the current share price of $10.51. (See RC stock analysis on TipRanks)To find good ideas for dividend stocks trading at attractive valuations, visit TipRanks’ Best Stocks to Buy, a newly launched tool that unites all of TipRanks’ equity insights.Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.
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