Asian Insider March 13: Cardinal sins

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

‘DARTH VADER’ JAILED

Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to 6 years in jail on Wednesday by an Australian court for sexually abusing two choir boys in Melbourne in the 1990s. Pell, a former top adviser to Pope Francis, is the most senior Catholic worldwide to be convicted for child sex offences. County Court of Victoria Chief Judge Peter Kidd said there was a real possibility that at aged 77, Pell could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Pell has maintained his innocence and has filed an appeal to be heard in June. The offences against two 13-year-old boys took place after Sunday mass in late 1996 and early 1997 in a room and a corridor at St Patrick's Cathedral, in Melbourne, where Pell was archbishop. Pell was found guilty on four charges of indecent acts and one of sexual penetration. He faced a maximum of 10 years in jail for each charge. During his trial, Pell's own lawyer described the burly 1.9 metres (6 foot and 3 inches) tall cardinal as the "Darth Vader"of the Catholic Church.

BOEING SETBACK

Indonesia's Lion Air plans to drop a US$22 billion order for Boeing's 737 Max 8 jetliners and switch to rival aircraft from Airbus as a rift between the companies widens following this week's crash in Ethiopia, a person with knowledge of the proposal told Bloomberg News. Lion Air was already looking at scrapping the Boeing deal after one of its own Max 8 planes came down on Oct 29, killing 189 people, and the African tragedy has made co-founder Rusdi Kirana more determined to cancel the contract, according to the person, who asked not to be named as the plans are private.

The move provides the first evidence of Boeing's order book being hurt following Sunday's crash, in which 157 people died when an Ethiopian Airlines 737 plunged to the ground six minutes after takeoff. The incident bore clear similarities to the Lion Air tragedy, and countries including China, Australia and Singapore, as well as Ethiopia and Indonesia, have grounded the aircraft.

PRIYANKA POWER

The Gandhis are India's first family of politics and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, sister of Congress Party chief Rahul Gandhi, is seen as a vote-winner with some seeing resemblances between her and her grandmother, the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Ms Vadra, the Congress' quick-witted foil to the acid-tongued Prime Minister Narendra Modi, chose Mr Modi's home state of Gujarat, for her first rally as a Congress leader. Speaking before a large crowd of party supporters, Ms Vadra urged them to "Make the right decision, ask the right questions." In the few words she spoke, the newly-minted Congress general secretary targeted PM Modi without once taking his name, Indian media reported. The April-May national election, she said, was "nothing less" than the Independence movement.

"Think and decide - those who talk big in front of you, where are the jobs they promised? What about the Rs. 15 lakh in every bank account that they talked about? What about women's safety?" she said at the rally in Ahmedabad, dressed in a white and blue sari.

Giant cutouts of her grandmother Indira Gandhi at the venue in Gandhinagar sought to remind the crowds of her resemblance to the former prime minister. Still, Priyanka's drawing power remains untested, for now. For a hard-eyed look at Priyanka's prospects, check out this article: Decisive turn in the road for India's Priyanka Gandhi Vadra

JAPAN LOSES PATIENCE

Fractious ties between South Korea and Japan have turned hostile over a series of lawsuits filed against Japanese companies whose roots can be traced back to 1910-1945 period when Japan controlled the Korean Peninsula. Now, Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso says tariffs were among the measures Japan could take against South Korea if a dispute among the major trading partners worsens over Koreans conscripted as labour during Japan's colonial rule.

Mr Aso said in response to a lawmaker's questions in parliament that matters had not reached that stage yet, but halting remittances or stopping visa issuance could also be considered if more damage were to be caused. His comments came after the Sankei newspaper of Japan reported Sunday that South Korean lawyers were considering trying to seize the assets of Japanese companies in Europe.

BUZZER’S THE BUZZWORD

It is election season in Indonesia and alongside the chimes of tubular bells, new noises and voices are being heard around the archipelagic nation. And so, welcome to the buzzers.

Almost every day, "Janda", a self-described Indonesian housewife with 2,000 Twitter followers, dispenses lifestyle tips, complains about city life, and praises how the government of President Joko Widodo has improved her life as a young mother.

But Janda the housewife does not exist. The Twitter account's real owner is an unmarried middle-aged man who offers political social media services backing Mr Joko's re-election campaign. He is a leader of one of the many so called "buzzer" teams, named for the social media buzz such groups aim to create, that have sprung up in Indonesia ahead of the presidential election next month in the world's third-largest democracy.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Top officials from China's north-west region of Xinjiang have mounted a robust defence of its controversial re-education camps, calling accusations of Muslim inmates being tortured and forcibly interned "ridiculous lies", says China Bureau Chief Tan Dawn Wei. Foreign media have been painting a blatantly false picture of these vocational training centres, said governor Shohrat Zakir, who also dismissed Turkey's description of them last month (Feb) as "concentration camps".

Days after Indonesian Siti Aisyah, who was suddenly freed on Monday by a Malaysian court where the women were being tried for the murder of the North Korean leader's half-brother, Hanoi has asked Malaysia to free the Vietnamese woman charged with participating in the same crime. Vietnamese citizen Doan Thi Huong is on trial for murder in Malaysia for the brazen Cold War-style killing of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of Kim Jong Un, in a busy Kuala Lumpur airport in 2017.

South Korea's parliament on Wednesday passed a set of Bills to fight air pollution that has blanketed parts of the country in recent years, with one Bill designating the problem a 'social disaster'. Pollution in Asia's fourth-largest economy has been driven up by factors including coal-fired power generation and high vehicle emissions, sparking widespread concern among the public and weighing on President Moon Jae-in's approval ratings.

That's it for today. Stay in touch with us anytime, anywhere via www.straitstimes.com

Ravi