AOL Chairman Case will resign in May

NEW YORK

Steve Case, co-founder of America Online and an architect of its merger with Time Warner, will resign as AOL Time Warner Inc. chairman in May, the company said yesterday.

Case said in a statement that he was stepping down because “some shareholders continue to focus their disappointment with the company’s post-merger performance on me personally.”

The announcement follows months of executive shuffles at the company – and speculation as to how long Case would last. He will remain on the company board and continue to co-chair its strategy committee.

“This decision was personally very difficult for me, as I would love to serve as Chairman of this great company for many years to come,” Case said.

Although the AOL Time Warner merger was promoted as an example of a new economy business reviving an old one, the influence of America Online on the company is waning. Many of the key proponents of the merger have left, been forced out or been demoted in the last year as investors have grown increasingly dissatisfied.

Jerry Levin, the Time Warner chief executive at the time of the merger, retired in May, just a year and a half after it was finalized.

Espionage trial could lead to death penalty

ALEXANDRIA, Va.

It’s the first U.S. espionage trial in nearly 50 years that could end in a death sentence: A retired Air Force master sergeant, deeply in debt, is accused of offering satellite secrets to Saddam Hussein and others for more than $13 million in Swiss currency.

Barring a last-minute plea agreement, jury selection is to begin today in the case against Brian Patrick Regan in U.S. District Court. His lawyers waged a late, unsuccessful fight to delay the trial because of a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq, one of the countries to whom Regan was accused of offering to sell secrets.

Legal experts said a plea avoiding trial this late was unlikely.

“I think you can assume any offers that were put on the table have been long-since rejected,” said Lawrence Robbins. He was the losing defense lawyer in the last espionage trial in 1997, when a federal jury convicted a married couple of spying for East Germany.

Full-blown spy trials in civilian courtrooms are rare. The Justice Department nearly always negotiates a plea agreement, even in cases where espionage has resulted in the deaths of America’s foreign agents.

Turkey allows U.S. to inspect bases for war

ANKARA, Turkey

As tensions grow with the United States, its most crucial ally, the Turkish government, has finally agreed to allow the U.S. military to inspect Turkish bases for use in a possible war with Iraq.

But the decision to allow inspections to start today leaves open whether Turkey will give in to U.S. pressure to allow tens of thousands of American soldiers to invade Iraq from Turkish soil – a move that U.S. and Turkish generals agree would likely shorten any war.

The issue is causing friction between Washington and the new government of Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, which must balance its ally’s desires against a Turkish public that is overwhelmingly opposed to a war.

U.S. military leaders have been pushing for a final decision on U.S. troops using the bases, concerned that delays are complicating war plans.

“As Ankara delays a decision, it is increasing the risk of damaging relations with the United States,” columnist Murat Yetkin wrote in the newspaper Radikal. “Ankara is approaching the point at which it will be unable to further delay.”

The question has the government in a bind.

Polls say more than 80 percent of Turks opposes a war with Iraq. In addition, the government fears a war would bring instability on the border with Iraq and cause billions of dollars in losses for tourism businesses, one of Turkey’s major industries.

But Turkey is struggling to recover from its worst recession in decades, and Washington’s support was critical in gaining $16 billion in loans from the International Monetary Fund. The United States has also been a strong supporter of Turkey’s bid to join the European

50 Taliban fighters released by warlord

KABUL, Afghanistan

After appeals from tribal elders, northern Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum has released 50 members of the Taliban militia captured during fighting more than a year ago, Dostum’s deputy said yesterday.

The men were freed from prison in the northern city of Kunduz on Saturday and handed over to Pashtun tribal elders, said Gen. Abdul Majid Rozi, contacted by satellite phone at Dostum’s headquarters in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

Most of the prisoners were captured in late 2001 as forces allied with the northern alliance of opposition groups that opposed Taliban rule swept the country with U.S. assistance.

The advance followed a U.S. aerial bombardment campaign – aimed at unseating the Taliban – that was prompted by the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Sept. 11 attacks were blamed on al-Qaida terrorists given sanctuary in Afghanistan by the Taliban, who were unseated from all cities by December 2001.

Pashtun elders from the southern and southeastern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul visited Dostum several times to appeal for the men’s release, Rozi said. The warlord decided to turn them over after discussions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and officials from the Red Cross and the United Nations, he added.

Boys and older men have been freed during earlier releases, but those let go this time were mostly in their 20s and 30s, Rozi said. Pakistanis and other foreign nationals have been released before, but all of those set free his time were Afghans, he said.

Dostum, considered a U.S. ally, has released hundreds of prisoners accused of being members of the Taliban, often on appeal from Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun. Dostum is an ethnic Uzbek and has been accused of persecuting Pashtuns in the north.

Freed prisoners say they have been tortured, locked in steel shipping containers without food or water and that money has been extorted from their families.

Many say they were conscripted by the Taliban, which targeted ethnic rivals and enforced a severe interpretation of Islamic law during its 1996-2001 rule over much of Afghanistan.

Kidnapped millionaire returned unharmed

Greenwich, Conn.

GREENWICH,Conn. (AP) – The millionaire chairman of an investment company was reportedly kidnapped for more than 30 hours, then released unharmed yesterday ,authorities said.

Federal authorities took three people into custody yesterday night in the kidnapping of Edward S. Lampert, 40, of Greenwich. There was no demand for ransom; authorities would not discuss a possible motive and the FBI did not give any information about the suspects late yesterday.

Lampert is listed on the Forbes 400 list released in September as the 288th richest person in America with a net worth of $800 million. He is the second-richest person in Connecticut, according to Forbes.

Lampert was weary from the ordeal, but not physically injured, police said. His family released a statement yesterday.

“Edward S. Lampert and his family are thankful that he is safely back home,” the statement said. “The family appreciates the efforts of the authorities in resolving this matter and the support of friends and business partners.”

The family declined further comment.

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