Film director Rasoulof fled Iran on foot, newspaper says

London — Film director Mohammad Rasoulof made an “exhausting and extremely dangerous” walk across a mountainous borderland to avoid being jailed in Iran on national security charges, he told The Guardian newspaper. 

Rasoulof said Monday he had fled Iran after a court sentenced him to eight years in jail, of which five were due to be served, over his new film “The Seed of the Sacred Fig.” 

The leading Iranian filmmaker, often a target of the country’s authorities, told The Guardian in an interview published Friday that he had found shelter in Germany and was hopeful he could attend the film’s Cannes premiere next week. 

The film tells the story of a judge’s struggles amid political unrest in Tehran. 

Rasoulof told the U.K. newspaper that he had “no choice” but to leave, although he expects to return home “quite soon.” 

“My mission is to be able to convey the narratives of what is going on in Iran and the situation in which we are stuck as Iranians,” said Rasoulof. 

“This is something that I cannot do in prison. 

“I have in mind the idea that I’ll be back quite soon, but I think that’s the case of all the Iranians who have left the country,” he said. 

Rasoulof has already served two terms in Iranian jails over previous films and had his passport withdrawn in 2017. 

Having decided to leave, Rasoulof told the newspaper he cut all communications via mobile phones and computers and made his way by foot on a secret route to a border crossing.  

“It was a several-hour long, exhausting and extremely dangerous walk that I had to do with a guide,” he said. 

After staying in a safe house, he contacted German authorities who provided him with papers that enabled him to travel to Europe. 

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Changes from Visa mean Americans will carry fewer credit, debit cards

new york — Your wallet may soon be getting thinner.

Visa on Wednesday announced major changes to how credit and debit cards will operate in the U.S. in the coming months and years.

The new features could mean Americans will be carrying fewer physical cards in their wallets, and will make the 16-digit credit or debit card number printed on every card increasingly irrelevant.

They will be some of the biggest changes to how payments operate in the U.S. since the U.S. rolled out chip-embedded cards several years ago. They also come as Americans have many more options to pay for purchases beyond “credit or debit,” including buy now, pay later companies, peer-to-peer payment options, paying directly with a bank, or digital payment systems such as Apple Pay.

“I think (with these features) we’re getting past the point where consumers may never need to manually enter an account number ever again,” said Mark Nelsen, Visa’s global head of consumer payments.

The biggest change coming for Americans will be the ability for banks to issue one physical payment card that will be connected to multiple bank accounts. That means no more carrying, for example, a Bank of America or Chase debit card as well as their respective credit cards in a physical wallet. Americans will be able to set criteria with their bank — such as having all purchases below $100 or with a certain merchant applied to the debit card, while other purchases go on the credit card.

The feature, already being used in Asia, will be available this summer. Buy now, pay later company Affirm is the first of Visa’s customers to roll out the feature in the U.S.

Fraud prompts changes

Some of Visa’s new features are in response to online-payments fraud, which continues to increase as more countries adopt digital payments. The company based in San Francisco, California, estimates that payment fraud happens roughly seven times more often online than it does in person, and there are now billions of stolen credit and debit card numbers available to criminals.

Other new elements are also in response to features that non-payments companies have rolled out in recent years. The Apple Card, which uses Mastercard as its payment network, does not come with a printed 16-digit account number and Apple Card users can request a fresh credit card number at any time without having to dispose of the physical card.

Visa executives see a future where banks will issue cards where the 16-digit account number, if the new cards come with them, is largely symbolic.

Soon, fingerprints can approve transactions

Among the other updates unveiled by Visa are changes to tap-to-pay features. Americans will be able to tap their credit or debit cards to their smartphones to add the card to mobile wallets, instead of using a smartphone’s camera to scan in a card’s information, or tap the card to their smartphones to approve a transaction online. Visa will also start implementing biometrics to approve transactions, similar to how Apple devices use a fingerprint or face scan to approve transactions.

The features will take time to filter down to the banks, which will decide when or what to implement for their customers. But because the banks and credit card companies are Visa’s customers, and issue cards with the Visa label, these are features that the financial institutions have been asking for.

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Mexico City taco stand earns Michelin star

MEXICO CITY — Newly minted Michelin-starred chef Arturo Rivera Martínez stood over an insanely hot grill Wednesday at the first Mexican taco stand ever to get a coveted star from the French dining guide and did exactly the same thing he’s been doing for 20 years: searing meat.

Though Michelin representatives came by Wednesday to present him with one of the company’s heavy, full-sleeved, pristine white chef’s jackets, he didn’t put it on: In this tiny business, which measures 3 meters by 3 meters, the heat is intense.

At Mexico City’s Tacos El Califa de León, in the scruffy-bohemian San Rafael neighborhood, there are only four things on the menu, all tacos, and all of which came from some area around a cow’s rib, loin or fore shank.

“The secret is the simplicity of our taco. It has only a tortilla, red or green sauce, and that’s it. That, and the quality of the meat,” said Rivera Martínez. He’s also probably the only Michelin-starred chef who, when asked what beverage should accompany his food, answers “I like a Coke.”

It’s actually more complicated than that. El Califa de León is the only taco stand among the 16 Mexican restaurants given one star, as well as two eateries that got two stars. Almost all the rest are pretty darn posh eateries.

In fact, other than perhaps one street food stand in Bangkok, El Califa de León is probably the smallest restaurant ever to get a Michelin star: Half of the 9.29 square-meter space is taken up by a solid steel plate grill that’s hotter than the salsa.

The other half is packed with standing customers clutching plastic plates and ladling salsa, and the female assistant who rolls out the rounds of tortilla dough constantly.

In a way, El Califa de León is a tribute to resistance to change. It has been doing the same four things since 1968.

Thousands of times a day, Rivera Martínez grabs a fresh, thinly sliced fillet of beef from a stack and slaps it on the super-hot steel grill; it sizzles.

He tosses a pinch of salt over it, squeezes half a lime on top, and places a soft round of freshly rolled tortilla dough onto the solid metal slab to puff up.

After less than a minute — he won’t say exactly how long because “that’s a secret” — he flips the beef over with a spatula, flips the tortilla, and very quickly scoops the cooked, fresh tortilla onto a plastic plate, places the beef on top and calls out the customer’s name who ordered it.

Any sauces — fiery red or equally atomic green — are added by the customer. There is no place to sit and at some times of day, no place to stand because the sidewalk in front of the business was taken over by street vendors hawking socks and batteries and cell phone accessories years ago.

Not that you really would want to eat inside the tiny taco restaurant. The heat on a spring day is overwhelming.

The heat is one of the few secrets Rivera Martínez would share. The steel grill must be heated to 360 Celsius. Asked how it felt to get a Michelin star, he said in classic Mexico City slang, “está chido … está padre,” or “it’s neat, it’s cool.” 

The prices are quite high by Mexican standards. A single, generous but not huge taco costs nearly $5. But many customers are convinced it’s the best, if not the cheapest, in the city.

“It’s the quality of the meat,” said Alberto Muñoz, who has been coming here for about eight years. “I have never been disappointed. And now I’ll recommend it with even more reason, now that it has a star.”

Muñoz’s son, Alan, who was waiting for a beef taco alongside his father, noted “this is a historic day for Mexican cuisine, and we’re witnesses to it.”

It really is about not changing anything — the freshness of the tortillas, the menu, the layout of the restaurant. Owner Mario Hernández Alonso won’t even reveal where he buys his meat.

Times have changed, though. The most loyal customer base for El Califa de León originally came from politicians of the old ruling PRI party, whose headquarters is about five blocks away. But the party lost the presidency in 2018 and has gone into a steady decline, and now it’s rare to see anyone in a suit here.

And Hernández Alonso noted that his father Juan, who founded the business, never bothered to trademark the Califa name and so a well-funded, sleek taco chain has opened about 15 airy restaurants in upscale neighborhoods under a similar name. Hernández Alonso has been toying with the idea of getting the business on social media, but that’s up to his grandkids.

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Vatican moves to adapt to hoaxes, Internet

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Friday overhauled its process for evaluating alleged visions of the Virgin Mary, weeping statues and other seemingly supernatural phenomena that have marked church history, putting the brakes on making definitive declarations unless the event is obviously fabricated.

The Vatican’s doctrine office revised norms first issued in 1978, arguing that they were no longer useful or viable in the internet age. Nowadays, word about apparitions or weeping Madonnas travels quickly and can harm the faithful if hoaxers are trying to make money off people’s beliefs or manipulate them, the Vatican said.

The new norms make clear that such an abuse of people’s faith can be punishable canonically, saying, “The use of purported supernatural experiences or recognized mystical elements as a means of or a pretext for exerting control over people or carrying out abuses is to be considered of particular moral gravity.”

The Catholic Church has had a long and controversial history of the faithful claiming to have had visions of the Virgin Mary, of statues purportedly weeping tears of blood and stigmata erupting on hands and feet evoking the wounds of Christ.

When confirmed as authentic by church authorities, these otherwise inexplicable signs have led to a flourishing of the faith, with new religious vocations and conversions. That has been the case for the purported apparitions of Mary that turned Fatima, Portugal, and Lourdes, France, into enormously popular pilgrimage destinations.

Church figures who claimed to have experienced the stigmata wounds, including Padre Pio and Pope Francis’ namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, have inspired millions of Catholics even if decisions about their authenticity have been elusive.

Francis himself has weighed in on the phenomenon, making clear that he is devoted to the main church-approved Marian apparitions, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, who believers say appeared to an Indigenous man in Mexico in 1531.

But Francis has expressed skepticism about more recent events, including claims of repeated messages from Mary to “seers” at the shrine of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, even while allowing pilgrimages to take place there.

“I prefer the Madonna as mother, our mother, and not a woman who’s the head of a telegraphic office, who sends a message every day at a certain time,” Francis told reporters in 2017.

The new norms reframe the Catholic Church’s evaluation process by essentially taking off the table whether church authorities will declare a particular vision, stigmata or other seemingly divinely inspired event supernatural.

Instead, the new criteria envisages six main outcomes, with the most favorable being that the church issues a noncommittal doctrinal green light, a so-called “nihil obstat.” Such a declaration means there is nothing about the event that is contrary to the faith, and therefore Catholics can express devotion to it.

The bishop can take more cautious approaches if there are doctrinal red flags about the reported event. The most serious envisages a declaration that the event isn’t supernatural or that there are enough red flags to warrant a public statement “that adherence to this phenomenon is not allowed.”

The aim is to avoid scandal, manipulation and confusion, and the Vatican fully acknowledged the hierarchy’s own guilt in confusing the faithful with the way it evaluated and authenticated alleged visions over the centuries.

The most egregious case was the flip-flopping determinations of authenticity by a succession of bishops over 70 years in Amsterdam about the purported visions of the Madonna at the Our Lady of All Nations shrine.

Another similar case prompted the Vatican in 2007 to excommunicate the members of a Quebec-based group, the Army of Mary, after its founder claimed to have had Marian visions and declared herself the reincarnation of the mother of Christ.

The revised norms acknowledge the real potential for such abuses and warn that hoaxers will be held accountable, including with canonical penalties.

The norms also allow that an event might at some point be declared “supernatural,” and that the pope can intervene in the process. But “as a rule,” the church is no longer in the business of authenticating inexplicable events or making definitive decisions about their supernatural origin.

And at no point are the faithful ever obliged to believe in the particular events, said Argentine Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the head of the Vatican doctrine office.

“The church gives the faithful the freedom to pay attention” or not, he said at a news conference.

Despite the new criteria, he said the church’s past decision-making on alleged supernatural events — such as at Fatima, Guadalupe or Lourdes — remains valid.

“What was decided in the past has its value,” he said. “What was done remains.”

To date, fewer than 20 apparitions have been approved by the Vatican over its 2,000-year history, according to Michael O’Neill, who runs the online apparition resource The Miracle Hunter.

Neomi De Anda, executive director of the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton, said the new guidelines represent a significant and welcome change to the current practice, while restating important principles.

“The faithful are able to engage with these phenomena as members of the faithful in popular practices of religion, while not feeling the need to believe everything offered to them as supernatural as well as the caution against being deceived and beguiled,” she said in an email.

Whereas in the past the bishop often had the last word unless Vatican help was requested, now the Vatican must sign off on every recommendation proposed by a bishop.

Robert Fastiggi, who teaches Marian theology at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan and is an expert on apparitions, said at first glance that requirement might seem to take authority away from the local bishop.

“But I think it’s intended to avoid cases in which the Holy See might feel prompted to overrule a decision of the local bishop,” he said.

“What is positive in the new document is the recognition that the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother are present and active in human history,” he said. “We must appreciate these supernatural interventions but realize that they must be discerned properly.”

He cited the biblical phrase that best applies: “Test everything, retain what is good.”

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Former OpenAI leader: Safety has ‘taken a backseat to shiny products’ at the company

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Dabney Coleman, actor who specialized in curmudgeons, dies

new york — Dabney Coleman, the mustachioed character actor who specialized in smarmy villains such asd the chauvinist boss in “9 to 5” and the nasty TV director in “Tootsie,” has died. He was 92. 

Coleman died Thursday at his home in Santa Monica, his daughter, Quincy Coleman, said in a statement to The Associated Press. She said he “took his last earthly breath peacefully and exquisitely.” 

“The great Dabney Coleman literally created, or defined, really — in a uniquely singular way — an archetype as a character actor. He was so good at what he did it’s hard to imagine movies and television of the last 40 years without him,” Ben Stiller wrote on X. 

Coleman’s delivery drew fans

For two decades Coleman labored in movies and television shows as a talented but largely unnoticed performer. That changed in 1976 when he was cast as the incorrigibly corrupt mayor of the hamlet of Fernwood in “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” a satirical soap opera that was so over the top no network would touch it. 

Producer Norman Lear finally managed to syndicate the show, which starred Louise Lasser in the title role. It quickly became a cult favorite. Coleman’s character, Mayor Merle Jeeter, was especially popular and his masterful, comic deadpan delivery did not go overlooked by film and network executives. 

A six-footer with an ample black mustache, Coleman went on to make his mark in numerous popular films, including as a stressed out computer scientist in “War Games,” Tom Hanks’ father in “You’ve Got Mail,” and a firefighting official in “The Towering Inferno.” 

He won a Golden Globe for “The Slap Maxwell Story” and an Emmy Award for best supporting actor in Peter Levin’s 1987 small screen legal drama “Sworn to Silence.” Some of his recent credits include “Ray Donovan” and a recurring role on “Boardwalk Empire,” for which he won two Screen Actors Guild Awards. 

In the groundbreaking 1980 hit “9 to 5,” he was the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss who tormented his unappreciated female underlings — Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton — until they turned the tables on him. 

Opposite Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie,” he was the obnoxious director of a daytime soap opera that Hoffman’s character joins by pretending to be a woman.  

Coleman’s obnoxious characters didn’t translate quite as well on television, where he starred in a handful of network comedies. Although some became cult favorites, only one lasted longer than two seasons, and some critics questioned whether a series starring a lead character with absolutely no redeeming qualities could attract a mass audience. 

Underneath all that bravura was a reserved man. Coleman insisted he was really quite shy.

“I’ve been shy all my life. Maybe it stems from being the last of four children, all of them very handsome, including a brother who was Tyrone Power-handsome. Maybe it’s because my father died when I was 4,” he told The Associated Press in 1984. “I was extremely small, just a little guy who was there, the kid who created no trouble. I was attracted to fantasy, and I created games for myself.” 

As Coleman aged, he began to put his mark on pompous authority figures, notably in 1998’s “My Date with the President’s Daughter,” in which he was not only an egotistical, self-absorbed president of the United States, but also a clueless father to a teenager girl. 

Abandons law school to act

Dabney Coleman — his real name — was born in 1932 in Austin, Texas. After two years at the Virginia Military Academy, two at the University of Texas and two in the Army, he was a 26-year-old law student when he met another Austin native, Zachry Scott, who starred in “Mildred Pierce” and other films. 

“He was the most dynamic person I’ve ever met. He convinced me I should become an actor, and I literally left the next day to study in New York. He didn’t think that was too wise, but I made my decision,” Coleman told the AP in 1984. 

Twice divorced, Coleman is survived by four children and five grandchildren. 

“My father crafted his time here on earth with a curious mind, a generous heart, and a soul on fire with passion, desire and humor that tickled the funny bone of humanity,” Quincy Coleman wrote in his honor. 

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Annual rich list says Paul McCartney is Britain’s 1st billionaire musician

LONDON — Paul McCartney is a billionaire Beatle.

According to figures released Friday, the former member of the Fab Four is the first British musician to be worth 1 billion pounds ($1.27 billion).

The annual Sunday Times Rich List calculated that the wealth of the 81-year-old musician and his wife, Nancy Shevell, had grown by 50 million pounds since last year thanks to McCartney’s 2023 Got Back tour, the rising value of his back catalogue and Beyonce’s cover of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” on her “Cowboy Carter” album.

A “final” Beatles song, “Now and Then,” was also released in November and topped music charts in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries. Surviving Beatles McCartney and Ringo Starr completed a demo track recorded in 1977 by the late John Lennon, adding in a guitar recording by George Harrison, who died in 2001.

The newspaper estimated 50 million pounds of the couple’s wealth is due to Shevell, daughter of the late U.S. trucking tycoon Mike Shevell.

McCartney ranked 165th overall on the newspaper’s respected and widely perused list of the U.K.’s 350 richest people. The top spot went to Gopi Hinduja and his family, who own the banking, media and entertainment conglomerate Hinduja Group and are worth an estimated 37 billion pounds ($47 billion).

Other entertainment figures on the list include “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, whose fortune is estimated at 945 million pounds ($1.2 billion), and singer Elton John, estimated to be worth 470 million pounds ($597 million).

King Charles III ranked 258th with an estimated wealth of 610 million pounds ($775 million). The king’s fortune includes the large inherited private estates of Sandringham in England and Balmoral in Scotland. The total does not include items held in trust by the monarch for the nation, such as the Crown Jewels.

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Kosovar’s sculptures transform roof of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gigantic metal sculptures made by Kosovo-born artist Petrit Halilaj adorn the rooftop of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in an ode to a childhood affected by war. Garentina Kraja has the story. Camera: Vladimir Badikov 

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Scholar called ‘Putin’s brain’ attacked on Chinese internet

Washington — Aleksander Dugin, a Russian nationalist ideologue and strong supporter of President Vladimir Putin, has been bombarded with attacks on Chinese social media, where netizens criticized and mocked his Russian expansionist views that had once included the dismembering of China.

Two years after Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine, pro-Russia sentiment has been prevalent on Chinese internet.

But the backlash against Dugin has revealed a less mentioned side of what has so far appeared to be a cozy alliance between Beijing and Moscow — hostility between Chinese nationalists and their Russian counterparts, the result of centuries of territorial disputes and political confrontations that Beijing has been reticent about displaying publicly in recent decades.

On May 6, Dugin opened an account on two of the most popular Chinese social media apps Weibo, China’s X, formerly known as Twitter, and Bilibili, a YouTube-like video site.

In the first video posted on both Weibo and Bilibili, Dugin greeted the Chinese audience and praised Beijing’s economic and political achievements in recent decades.

In the same video, he also criticized an article published in April in The Economist by Feng Yujun, director of Russian and Central Asian studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. Feng said in the article that Russia will inevitably lose the Ukraine war.

Dugin countered that Feng and some Chinese people underestimated Russia’s “tenacity and perseverance.”

The video was quickly condemned by Chinese citizens, who posted comments such as “Russia must lose,” which received thousands of likes.

“This is an extremist who is extremely unfriendly to China and has made plans to dismember China,” another message posted by a Weibo user named “Zhixingbenyiti” said.

Dugin, 62, was born in Moscow. In the 1980s, he became an anti-communist dissident.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he began to promote Russian expansionism. He believes that Moscow’s territorial expansion in Eurasia will allow it to counter Western forces led by the United States.

In his 1997 book, Foundations of Geopolitics, Dugin wrote that dismembering China was a necessary step for Russia to become strong. People within Putin’s inner circle have reportedly shown interest in Dugin’s writing, which gave rise to his nickname “Putin’s brain.”

However, Dugin’s attitude toward China has changed significantly in recent years. In 2018, he visited China for the first time. In a speech at Fudan University, he praised China’s economy, culture and leadership in the fight against colonialism.

He also changed his previous support for containing China and said in a speech that China and Russia could work together to “form a very important and non-negligible containment/pull effect” on Western powers.

Dugin is now a senior fellow at Fudan University’s China Institute and one of the columnists for China’s nationalist news organization, Guancha.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Dugin said in a column that the alliance between China and Russia would “mean the irreversible end of Western hegemony.”

Philipp Ivanov, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, told VOA that “Dugin is an opportunist. As the Ukraine war dramatically accelerated the alignment between China and Russia, his position started to change, resulting in his current attempt to engage with China’s intellectual and broader community.”

Ivanov also thinks Dugin’s influence on the Kremlin has been exaggerated.

Since joining Chinese social media, Dugin has gained more than 100,000 followers on Weibo and 25,000 followers on BiliBili. He has published fewer than five posts on Weibo, but nearly every one of them has more than 1,000 comments, most of which criticized him.

Under a post in which Dugin supported Putin on his fifth presidential term, people responded with comments such as “Russia is about to lose the war” and “The gates of hell are waiting for you.”

Wang Xiaodong, China’s most influential nationalist scholar, shared a Weibo post he made two years ago criticizing Dugin and Chinese pro-Russian groups.

“Introducing Dugin’s ideas is not because I worry that the Kremlin will implement his ideas; He has the intention but not the strength! I just want to tell the Chinese people how some Russians, including elites in the powerful departments, view China. Do we Chinese need to risk our lives for them?” the post read.

Ivanov was not surprised by the attacks on Dugin on the Chinese internet.

“While Chinese netizens may support Putin’s anti-Western/anti-US agenda, they are skeptical or outright negative about Russia’s assault on an independent country’s sovereignty and Russian expansionism, nationalism and chauvinism (which Dugin represents),” he told VOA in an email.

He said the history of China-Russia relations is predominantly about confrontation, competition and mistrust.

Among the attacks on Dugin, many netizens also brought up former Chinese territories that Russia occupied in the past 200 years.

“For the sake of ever-lasting friendship between China and Russia, please return Sakhalin and Vladivostok,” one Weibo comment posted by “lovejxcecil” read.

Although China has not been involved in the war, the Russia-Ukraine war has been a hot topic on the Chinese internet.

According to Eric Liu, a former Weibo censor, Dugin’s joining the platform undoubtedly brought more traffic to Weibo. However, it also means that Weibo needs to invest more resources in censorship to prevent him from making remarks that Beijing considers sensitive.

“He is a foreigner. He has no idea about China’s ‘political correctness’ or where the boundaries are,” Liu said. “This risk will have to be taken care of by Weibo, which brought him in.”

On Thursday, Dugin posted on Weibo that China and Russia could achieve “anything” together. His comment section has been turned off. 

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US arrests American and Ukrainian in North Korea-linked IT infiltration scheme

WASHINGTON — U.S. prosecutors on Thursday announced the arrests of an American woman and a Ukrainian man they say helped North Korea-linked IT workers posing as Americans to obtain remote-work jobs at hundreds of U.S. companies.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) said the elaborate scheme, aimed at generating revenue for North Korea in contravention of international sanctions, involved the infiltration of more than 300 U.S. firms, including Fortune 500 companies and banks, and the theft of the identities of more than 60 Americans.

A DoJ statement said the overseas IT workers also attempted to gain employment and access to information at two U.S. government agencies, although these efforts were “generally unsuccessful.”

An earlier State Department statement said the scheme had generated at least $6.8 million for North Korea. It said the North Koreans involved were linked to North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department, which oversees development of the country’s ballistic missiles, weapons production, and research and development programs.

An indictment filed in federal court in Washington last week and unsealed on Thursday said charges had been filed against Christina Marie Chapman, 49, of Litchfield Park, Arizona; Ukrainian Oleksandr Didenko, 27, of Kyiv; and three other foreign nationals.

A Justice Department statement said Chapman was arrested on Wednesday, while Didenko was arrested on May 7 by Polish authorities at the request of the United States, which is seeking his extradition.

The State Department announced a reward of up to $5 million for information related to Chapman’s alleged co-conspirators, who used the aliases Jiho Han, Haoran Xu and Chunji Jin, and another unindicted individual using the aliases Zhonghua and Venechor S.

Court records did not list lawyers for those arrested and it was not immediately clear whether they had legal representation.

The head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Nicole Argentieri, said the alleged crimes “benefited the North Korean government, giving it a revenue stream and, in some instances, proprietary information stolen by the co-conspirators.”

The charges “should be a wakeup call for American companies and government agencies that employ remote IT workers,” she said in the statement.

It said the scheme “defrauded U.S. companies across myriad industries, including multiple well-known Fortune 500 companies, U.S. banks, and other financial service providers.”

The DoJ said Didenko was accused of creating fake accounts at U.S. IT job search platforms, selling them to overseas IT workers, some of whom he believed were North Korean. It said overseas IT workers using Didenko’s services were also working with Chapman.

Didenko’s online domain, upworksell.com, was seized Thursday by the Justice Department, the statement said.

The DOJ statement said the FBI executed search warrants for U.S.-based “laptop farms” – residences that hosted multiple laptops for overseas IT workers.

It said that through these farms, including one Chapman hosted from her home, U.S.-based facilitators logged onto U.S. company computer networks and allowed the overseas IT workers to remotely access the laptops, using U.S. IP addresses to make it appear they were in the United States.

The statement said search warrants for four U.S. residences associated with laptop farms controlled by Didenko were issued in the Southern District of California, the Eastern District of Tennessee, and Eastern District of Virginia, and executed between May 8 and May 10.

North Korea is under U.N. sanctions aimed at cutting funding for its missile and nuclear weapons programs and experts say it has sought to generate income illicitly, including through IT workers.

Confidential research by a now-disbanded U.N. sanctions monitoring panel seen by Reuters on Tuesday showed they had been investigating 97 suspected North Korean cyberattacks on cryptocurrency companies between 2017 and 2024, valued at some $3.6 billion.

The U.N. sanctions monitors were disbanded at the end of April after Russia vetoed renewal of their mandate.

A research report from a Washington think tank in April said North Korean animators may have helped create popular television cartoons for big Western firms despite international sanctions. 

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Protesters disrupt Google conference over Israel AI contract

Protesters disrupted Google’s annual conference this week over the tech giant’s deal providing artificial intelligence and other services to the Israeli government. Matt Dibble reports from Mountain View, California. Camera: Matt Dibble.

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Kenya conference showcases technology to help people with disabilities

In Africa, about 15% of the population faces disability challenges despite advancements in technology. Limited infrastructure and high cost of assistive tech create barriers to digital access, leading to exclusion. A conference in Nairobi this week aims to help change that. Mohammed Yusuf reports.

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TSMC says no damage to its Arizona facilities after incident

TAIPAI, TAIWAN — Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC said Thursday there was no damage to its facilities after an incident at its Arizona factory construction site where

a waste disposal truck driver was transported to a hospital.

Firefighters responded to a reported explosion Wednesday afternoon at the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company plant in Phoenix, the Arizona Republic reported, citing the local fire department.

TSMC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker whose clients include Apple and Nvidia, said in a statement none of its employees or onsite construction workers had reported any related injuries.

“This is an active investigation with no additional details that can be shared at this time,” it added.

TSMC’s Taipei-listed shares pared earlier gains after the news and were last up around 0.8% on Thursday morning. TSMC last month agreed to expand its planned investment by $25 billion to $65 billion and to add a third Arizona plant by 2030.

The company will produce the world’s most advanced 2 nanometer technology at its second Arizona facility expected to begin production in 2028.

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Take a stroll through the US president’s backyard

General public gets to visit White House grounds in spring and fall

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Old Hollywood glamour sizzles at National Portrait Gallery exhibit

He captured the most famous faces in 1930s and early ’40s cinema — Garbo, Crawford, Bogart and Gable. Now the work of George Hurrell, one of Hollywood’s greatest portrait photographers, is on display at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery. For VOA News, Cristina Caicedo Smit has the story. Videographer: Hakim Shammo; Video editor: Cristina Caicedo Smit

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YouTube agrees to remove videos of banned Hong Kong protest song

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Miniature poodle Sage fetches top prize at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show 

NEW YORK — A sprightly miniature poodle named Sage was crowned “Best in Show” on Tuesday at the 148th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, winning the grand prize in the most prestigious competition among pure-bred canines in the United States.

Sage, the finalist representing 21 breeds classified as non-sporting dogs, triumphed over more than 2,500 top-ranked dogs competing in the two-day contest, held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the Queens borough of New York City.

Sage, a 4-year-old black-colored female groomed in the fine, fluffy topiary style traditional for poodles, competed head to head against the winners in six other groups — terriers, hounds, herding dogs, working dogs, sporting dogs and toy dogs.

She was the first female to win the top prize at Westminster since 2020, according to commentators on the Fox Sports channel, which broadcast the event live.

And she became the fourth miniature poodle to claim the top prize in the 148-year history of the contest, with the trophy previously going to her breed in 1943, 1959 and 2002, according to kennel club records.

The larger “standard” poodle breed has been declared Best in Show five times, most recently in 2020, and the smaller “toy” poodle breed has won twice.

The poodle originated as a hunting dog in Germany and is now recognized as the national dog of France.

Sage’s handler, Kaz Hosaka, cried tears of joy and carried his prized poodle in his arms around floor of the auditorium to cheers of the crowd as he celebrated what he said was his 45th year participating at the Westminster dog show and the last of his career.

The Westminster dog show bills itself as the second-oldest U.S. sporting event, behind only the Kentucky Derby thoroughbred horse race. This year’s competition drew a field of contenders representing 200 breeds from all 50 U.S. states and 12 other countries.

Mercedes, a female 4-year-old German shepherd, was named runner-up for the overall contest, after first winning the top prize in the herding dog group.

Along with Sage and Mercedes, the two other finalists chosen on Monday were Comet the Shih Tzu, representing the toy group, and Louis, the Afghan hound leading the hound group.

Rounding out the finalists were three group winners chosen on Tuesday – Micah the black cocker spaniel, representing sporting dogs; Monty, the giant schnauzer, leading the working dogs; and Frankie, a colored bull terrier from the terrier group.

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New Zealand researchers say artificial intelligence could enhance surgery

SYDNEY — Researchers in New Zealand say that artificial intelligence, or AI, can help solve problems for patients and doctors.  

A new study from the University of Auckland says that an emerging area is the use of AI during operations using so-called “computer vision.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, says that artificial intelligence has the potential to identify abnormalities during operations and to unburden overloaded hospitals by enhancing the monitoring of patients to help them recover after surgery at home.

The New Zealand research details how AI “tools are rapidly maturing for medical applications.”  It asserts that “medicine is entering an exciting phase of digital innovation.”

The New Zealand team is investigating computer vision, which describes a machine’s understanding of videos and images. 

 

Dr. Chris Varghese, a doctoral researcher in the Department of Surgery at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland, led the AI research team.

He told VOA the technology has great potential.

“The use of AI in surgery is a really emerging field. We are seeing a lot of exciting research looking at what we call computer vision, where AI is trying to learn what surgeons see, what the surgical instruments look like, what the different organs look like, and the potential there is to identify abnormal anatomy or what the safest approach to an operation might be using virtual reality and augmented reality to plan ahead of surgeries, which could be really useful in cutting out cancers and things like that.”

Varghese said doctors in New Zealand are already using AI to help sort through patient backlogs.

 

“We are using automated algorithms to triage really long waiting lists,” he said. “So, getting people prioritized and into clinics ahead of time, based on need, so the right patients are seen at the right time.”

The researchers said there are limitations to the use of artificial intelligence because of concerns about data privacy and ethics.

The report concludes that “numerous apprehensions remain with regard to the integration of AI into surgical practice, with many clinicians perceiving limited scope in a field dominated by experiential” technology.

The study also says that “autonomous robotic surgeons…. is the most distant of the realizable goals of surgical AI systems.”

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