Long stories short
- Covid isolation was cut to five days in England after modelling found that two thirds of positive cases were no longer infectious after this point.
- Russian officials said they had reached a dead end in efforts to persuade Nato to rule out Ukrainian membership.
- A Chinese woman forced by Covid quarantine to move in with her blind date became an overnight sensation when her video diary went viral.
Case not dismissed
If Prince Andrew settled, how would he pay? The question arises because the New York judge in Virginia Giuffre’s sexual abuse case against the Queen’s favourite son has thrown out his lawyers’ bid to have it dismissed. Settling out of court now looks like his least bad option, and by the standards of princes up to their necks in costly legal battles Andrew is not rich.
As a result, there is a plausible scenario in which some of the funds used to end a case brought by a woman claiming Andrew raped her when she was 17 come ultimately from the British public purse.
Split hairs. The prince denies Giuffre’s charges but has fought them only on technicalities – which District Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected one by one. Giuffre’s suit has been brought under a new New York law that opens a two-year window for victims of historical sex abuse to seek compensation. It alleges battery and emotional distress as a result of being trafficked to have sex with Andrew and being sexually abused by him in London, New York and the Caribbean between 2000 and 2002.
Andrew’s team tried arguing that the new law was unconstitutional; that Giuffre’s claims were vague and “duplicative”; and that a 2009 deal with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex criminal, meant she was not entitled to sue in the first place.
Kaplan had already rejected the argument based on the 2009 deal. He called the new law reasonable and said the alleged abuses, if they occurred, were “intolerable in a civilised community”.
The implications. Andrew could now proceed to trial or try to appeal the judge’s ruling. But
- to appeal he would need Kaplan’s permission, and there is no sign it would be granted;
- the judge has clearly had enough of technicalities and wants the case resolved out of court or before a jury;
- regardless of the merits of the case a trial could prove disastrous for Andrew, who in his infamous Newsnight interview last year showed no instinct or ability to empathise with Epstein’s victims.
Hence the likelihood of an eventual bid to settle. That will be expensive, not least because so far Giuffre has said what she wants from the case is not money but an acknowledgment of her charges. Hence the spotlight on Andrew’s assets.
- He’s said to have an annual income of £270,000 consisting of his £20,000 navy pension and £250,000 a year from the Queen’s supposedly private funds, most of which are generated by the 700 year-old Duchy of Lancaster.
- He has no property of his own except, for a few days more, an £18 million Swiss chalet which he has now been forced to sell and for which last week he was reported to have found a buyer.
What other assets Andrew may or may not own is unclear and now that he’s withdrawn from public duties he’s under little pressure to disclose them. But his costs are daunting and growing.
- His legal defence is estimated to have cost £2 million so far – a bill likely to treble should he insist on a trial.
- A settlement could limit lawyers’ fees but cost another £10 million, according to today’s Sun.
The Queen has reportedly been paying Andrew’s legal bills since last year. If a settlement is to be funded from the sale of the chalet, £10 million may be as high as he can go because he still owed £6.6 million on the property until late last year, and that debt that may also have to be settled from the proceeds of the sale.
To the extent the chalet was bought with the Queen’s money and gets Andrew out of his present predicament, worries about misuse of taxpayers’ money will linger: the Duchy of Lancaster pays neither corporation tax nor capital gains tax, writes David McClure, author of The Queen’s True Worth, and “is much less private than many would have us believe”.
Who’s buying the chalet? We may never know. Switzerland has no land registry and is coy about the beneficial ownership of its prime properties. But it’s a question worth pursuing.
covid by numbers
100 million – doses of Omicron-specific Covid-19 vaccines Pfizer plans to manufacture by spring.
Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity
Very Important Privilege
The High Court ruled that the UK government’s use of a VIP lane to award hundreds of millions of pounds to suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic was unlawful. Two campaign groups, the Good Law Project and EveryDoctor, brought a claim against Pestfix, a pest control firm, and Ayanda Capital, a hedge fund. The companies secured more than £600 million in contracts, the court found, “on a flawed basis” and “in breach of the obligation of equal treatment”. The VIP lane was “better resourced” and saw bids from companies that were introduced by “senior referrers” – which can be roughly translated as politically connected people. Companies recommended by an MP, peer or official were 10 times more likely than others to be successful. Pestfix’s director was a friend of a senior health department official’s father-in-law. “How very nice to hear from you,” the official replied to Pestfix’s director when contacted. “My colleagues and I would be delighted to learn more about what you have available and in what quantities.”
belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries
A famous Italian journalist, the late Indro Montanelli, once described Silvio Berlusconi as a “disease that can only be cured through vaccination”. He was wrong: the politician won four terms as Italy’s prime minister and served in high office longer than any other Italian leader since Mussolini. He’s now planning a run for the country’s presidency later this month. He’ll be meeting fellow right-wing leaders in his Roman villa this week to secure their backing. The centre-left party’s deputy leader called Berlusconi’s plan a “tragic joke”, but others warn against taking it lightly. There is currently no strong political majority in Italy and no clear political leader, leaving the makings of a power vacuum for an ambitious president to fill. To note: the role is largely ceremonial, but includes leadership of Italy’s armed forces.
New things technology, science, engineering
The unfolding Webb
After a successful Christmas Day launch, the James Webb space telescope is now orbiting the sun a million miles from Earth. But the launch was only the first step in a complex process of fine-tuning 18 gold-plated hexagonal mirrors that form Webb’s primary mirror. Each mirror now needs to be aligned to within one five-thousandth of the thickness of a human hair, in temperatures down to minus 240 C. The process will take three months, and unlike the case of the Hubble, whose mirror was replaced in orbit, there will be no possibility of human intervention if something goes wrong. When the $9 billion telescope is fully operational it should be able to look back 13.8 billion years to the beginning of the universe and examine the possibility of life on other planets. See our earlier Sensemaker on how this is possible. All being well the first Webb images should arrive on earth this spring.
The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY
As Westminster squabbles over the difference between “work” and “party” a lot of people are dying from Covid. Omicron may be less lethal than Delta, but yesterday 398 deaths were reported within 28 days of a positive test in the UK. That’s the highest number since 24 February last year, at the peak of the first Delta surge. Vaccinations are still doing their job, but they can’t always prevent severe illness. The Scotsman reports an 80 per cent week-on-week increase in ICU admissions in Scotland and growing concerns about breakthrough infections and serious illness among older people. One of Wales’s busiest intensive care units reports that all its patients are unvaccinated and those who have died had no pre-existing conditions. A lag time of up to two months between infection and death could mean an even higher death rate in the coming weeks.
Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics
Cut and run
TK Maxx, Jimmy Choo and Versace, and the French makers of Président and Saint Agur cheese, are among firms failing to protect the world’s forests from deforestation, according to a report published today. Deforestation, largely driven by demand for palm oil, soy, beef, leather, timber, pulp and paper, creates 15 per cent of carbon emissions. Of the 350 companies that produce, use or sell the most of these goods globally, a third have no policies to ensure their supply chains aren’t driving deforestation. A further 38 per cent have policies that cover some but not all the commodities displacing forest cover. Almost two-thirds of the 150 financial institutions that back these firms don’t have policies to check whether specific goods they fund are linked to deforestation and all those that made net zero pledges nonetheless fund companies with no commitments to end deforestation at all. Companies in the UK, USA and EU could soon be legally required to ensure there’s no deforestation in their supply chains. The report, by Global Canopy, shows they’ll have a lot of work to do to comply.
Thanks for reading. Do share this around, and let us know what we’ve missed.
With additional reporting by Paul Caruana Galizia, Phoebe Davis and Ellen Halliday.
Edited and produced by Phoebe Davis
Photographs Getty Images
in the tortoise app today
The most expensive drug in the world
Zolgensma is a life-saving drug but it costs more than a million and a half pounds per patient. Who decides if the NHS can afford it?