Archive for August, 2011

Anglin acquitted of murder

| 31/08/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Devon Anglin was found not guilty of the murder of four-year-old Jeremiah Barnes, Wednesday afternoon, when Justice Howard Cooke said there was "disturbing, unexplained inconsistencies" in the evidence of Andy Barnes, the crown's key witness and the child's father. Jeremiah was shot and killed at the Hell Gas Station, West Bay, while sitting in the Barnes family car in February last year by a masked gunman, whom his parents had both identified as Anglin. However, following a judge alone trial Justice Howard Cooke acquitted the defendant as he said Barnes' visual evidence and that of Dorlisa Ebanks, Jeremiah’s mother, was of no “probative value.”

The judge said that, as had been agreed by both counsel in the case, if the visual identification was found by the court to be of “no value” the judge had no need to consider the supporting evidence in the case as nothing could support “worthless”, which was how he described the evidence of Barnes, whom he said was predisposed to believing Anglin was the killer and fixated by his belief that the defendant was out to do him harm.

Justice Cooke said he put “absolutely noweight” on the evidence given by Dorlisa Ebanks as her evidence directly contradicted that given by Carlos Ebanks, the gas station attendant, who had said the gunman was wearing a full mask.

Despite the fact that the gas station attendant had stated that the gunman was wearing a Halloween mask, an issue contradicted by the CCTV evidence, which showed the gunman wearing a bandana or handkerchief over part of his face, the judge said he believed Carlos Ebanks to be a witness of truth.

Justice Cooke also found Anglin not guilty of the attempted murder of Andy Barnes, who is believed to have been the gunman’s intended victim on the night, and not guilty of possession of an unlicensed firearm. The judge acquitted Anglin on two other counts on the indictment, including possession of an imitation firearm and a breach of the peace in connection with an incident two weeks before the murder, when the crown alleged that Anglin had threatened to kill Barnes at Batabano Plaza.

In the immediate wake of the judge’s decision, speaking on the courthouse steps, the police commissioner said it was a sad day for the Barnes family and a “desperate day for justice” in Cayman. David Baines said that hehad asked the director of public prosecutions to urgently seek an appeal against the verdict, as he said it was important that the people saw that justice was done and he believed there were grounds for review of the judge’s verdict.

Former RCIPS detective chief inspector Peter Kennett, the senior investigator on the case who has since retired but was present for the trial, said he felt very sad for Jeremiah's parents, Dorlisa and Andy. “They witnessed the tragic murder of their beautiful son, Jeremiah, and have always been totally adamant that Devon Anglin, a man whom they know extremely well, was the person who fired the gun at them,” he said. “This is quite the saddest moment in my forty plus years of policing, both here and in the UK,” Kennett added.

This is the third murder trial in the last few months relating to shootings in which a judge alone has presided and a not guilty verdict has been handed down. In the last two cases four men have walked free from court after all of them had served more than a year in jail.

Despite the verdict Wednesday, Anglin did not walk free. The 26-year-old West Bay man, who has been in jail since his arrest in February, was remanded in custody as he still faces another murder trial later this year. Anglin is charged with the fatal shooting of Carlos Webster in a West Bay Road nightclub in September 2009.

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Slow progress on accounts

| 31/08/2011 | 13 Comments

(CNS): The auditor general said today that there has been some slow progress on thegovernment's accountability to the public, as he presented an updated report on financial reporting. On the deadline day for government entities to submit their accounts for the last financial year, Alistair Swarbrick said there was hope that the governmentmay finally manage to produce some form of timely consolidated report for the most recent financial year, but added that it would not be easy. Changes in the public finance law, the pragmatic approach, some lines in the sand from the audit office and leadership from the deputy governor had all helped to improve the situation, but he warned that there would still likely be issues with the quality of the reporting, which could go on for several more years.

“While there has been more progress since my last report, it has beenslower that I had hoped," said Swarbrick. “I fully support government's more strategic approach to concentrate on the current financial results, however the delays clearing backlog will definitely impact on government's capacity to prepare the 2010/11 financial and my ability to audit them.”

The update by the office revealed a number of continuing problems in government's accountability  to the public on how it is spending their tax dollars. Aside from the fact that the Ministry of Finance, formerly the portfolio of finance, will never have any audited accounts for the years between 2004 and 2008, all accounts for government ministries and portfolios after 2004 up to 2009 are of such poor quality that there will never be any meaningful consolidated accounts for those years. This means leaving the Cayman public in the dark about how public money was spent.

The report also reveals that that there are still some 55 reports that are ready to enter the public domain that have not been tabled in the Legislative Assembly, and as a result remain under-wraps.

Swarbrick said that despite the numerous issues, progress was being made and only 14 statutory authority or government company backlog reports remained outstanding and 12 for ministries and portfolios, which was an improvement, though things were slow. “It's not as fast as I had hoped but we are getting there," he added.

However, the goal now is for all government entities to submit their 2010/11 accounts before 5pm Wednesday in order for government to have a real chance of getting back on track and produce full consolidated accounts for the most recent financial year.

Swarbrick said the change to the law, which has removed government's obligation to produce audited financial accounts for the years up to 2008/09, and the more pragmatic approach by government to focus on the more recent accounts may bear fruit.

The auditor pointed out that in the end the financial statements are about accountability to the people as without them elected officials cannot review how the money they authorized through the budget process was spent.

“The wider public cannot see what has happened to their tax dollars and they cannot be sure they were used appropriately,” swarbrick said as he emphasized the importance of addressing the ongoing failure of government to be accountable. “The accounts represent what happens to public money and holding the people who are responsible for spending it accountable as officials should be seen to be spending money responsibly.”

Although there are a number of ways that governments can be accountable to their people for what they spend, the Cayman government  has only ever produced annual reports, and as a result of not doing that for more than seven years, the people have no idea what has happened to public cash.

In order to try and address that issue and get some form of genuine accountability, the auditor general said his office would be undertaking compliance audits on the missing years in an effort to get some answers.

“As a result of the large number of disclaimers of opinion on the financial statements of ministries and portfolios and some financial statements for the period 2004/05 to 2007/08 not being subject to audit as a result of the PMFL amendments, I will be undertaking a series of compliance audits that will review significant high risk areas of expenditure to ensure that they have been incurred for the purposes they were intended and in compliance with the relevant statutory provisions,” Swarbrick wrote in his latest report.

He explained that areas where money is awarded based on subjective criteria is what was generally consider high risk, such as scholarships or bursary payments, as well as specific projects. He said that the changes to the PMFL which removed the need for audited financials up to 2008 required the compliance audits as a way ofaddressing gaps in the accountability of how public money has been spent.

The auditor admitted, however, that the reality of the situation, as a result of the failure of government to put proper processes in place regarding financial accountability, the public will never truly know what happened to its money between 2004 and 2009.

Swarbrick added that the historical failure of government to keep track of public money may well have contributed to the recent  years of deficit because, he said, while officials may know at a given time how much money government does or doesn't have, it has had difficulties predicting budgets and understanding its financial requirements as elected officials have not been able to see where or how money is actually spent and therefore unable to make informed decisions about cuts.

See Financial and Performance reporting update here

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Cayman HR chair defends two car families

| 31/08/2011 | 16 Comments

(CNS): Richard Coles, who currently has a duel role in the Cayman Islands, has defended the middle classes in a short article for Cayman Finance, one of the two bodies he chairs. Coles, who took over the leadership of the offshore financial services industry organization after Anthony Travers stepped down, is also chair of the Human Rights Commission. In an article answering a UK newspaper comment that says there is "no moral case for tax havens", Cole says that taxes punish the “sub millionaire, middle classes with two cars in the garage and three children heading for college,” and suggests if this section of the community is stifled there will soon be no community.

Many human rights groups around the world have concerns about the link between offshore finance and human rights abuses. A significant number of leading NGOs and charities suggest that large corporations that use offshore financial centres to avoid taxes and royalties to developing countries deprive governments – especially those in lesser developed nations — of essential revenues to deliver development, health, education, housing, water and other human rights.

However, in his role as Cayman Finance chair, Cole, Cayman's former attorney general, defends the rights of the tax payer to keep more of what he says is the money they earn and also defends Cayman in the face of the commentary published in the Independent at the weekend.

Echoing the same arguments made by his predecessor, Cole has criticized the article by Paul Valley because he says it repeats the “hoary old clichés” and notes the 12,000 corporations that are registered at Ugland House but, Cole says, it doesn’t mention the Delaware office with 217,000 names on the door.

Coles claimed that the Cayman Islands facilitates the flow of trillions of dollars from the international capital markets to the balance sheets of US institutions, and taking aim at what he said was the UK’s  “left wing press", he said it was determined to conflate Cayman, “a perfectly  transparent  jurisdiction”, with non transparent jurisdictions such as  Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, where “as the facts slowly emerge, we inescapably conclude that tax evasion actually occurs,” he said.

The financial association chair said that no one disagrees that “tax evasion is wrong,” especially in the “Cayman Islands where the transparency debate was concluded over 20 years ago,” he stated in the short article, adding that Cayman has tax treaties with the United States and the European Union.

As often argued by Travers, Coles said “only the criminally insane tax evader” would use the Cayman Islands because of the power of access to Cayman accounts that IRS, DOJ and the European Treasuries have.

“Yet we find that the expressions "evasion”, “outrage “, ”loopholes" and "avoidance” are now  used interchangeably and indiscriminately to describe Cayman financial structuring without reference to legal and accounting precedent, standard or principle or the factual treaty position,” Cole wrote.

Quoting Daniel J. Mitchell, Cole wrote that tax competition affords taxpayers the ability to enjoy more of what they earn.

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Teen arrested in shooting

| 31/08/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): The police have arrested an eighteen-year-old man for attempted murder in connection with a shooting at a jerk stand in Red Bay in June. The teen is accused of trying to kill 28-year-old Kemar Golding, who was shot through the eye by a masked gunman during a failed robbery but miraculously survived. The man was arrested, police revealed, during an operation in George Town on Tuesday and currently remains in custody. Golding, who is an assistant brewer at the Cayman Islands Brewery and still recovering from his ordeal, lost his left eye in a senseless act of violence that, despite the rising violent crime levels, still shocked the community.

The brewer was shot as he was helping his friend who worked at the Red Bay jerk stand take out garbage as the popular food stop was closing for the evening on 29 June. Three masked men reportedly emerged from behind the Prospect Play House and demanded cash from Golding and his friend. When the men said that they had no money, one of the robbers instructed another who was carrying the firearm to “give him one”, and the gunman opened fire shooting Golding through the eye.

Anyone who has information regarding this or any crime can call the anonymous tip line Crime Stoppers on 1-800-TIPS (8477).
 

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Alden condemns Mac’s attack

| 30/08/2011 | 59 Comments

(CNS): The opposition leader has described the premier’s attack on the auditor general and his staff as shocking. In a national radio broadcast on Tuesday, Alden McLaughlin said the bitter, verbal attack which led to the governor publicly chastising McKeeva Bush was unwarranted and a deplorable example of intimidation. The PPM leader said the premier had abused his power in an effort to try and reduce the credibility of the public auditor, who holds a critically important office.  McLaughlin called on Bush to stop criticizing the AG and take note of his reports, and in particular the need to cease political interference in the awarding of government contracts.

The opposition joined the governor in condemning the “deeply personal, vitriolic and unwarranted attacks on the auditor general”, which were unbecoming of the premier’s office and were an abuse of authority because they were clearly meant to intimidate the auditor general, McLaughlin stated.

“Given the recent findings of the auditor general on the way in which the premier … has handled the award of major government contracts, it is understandable that (he) would not presently be very happy,” the leader of the opposition said, adding that while it was understandable Bush would feel the need to respond to the criticisms in the reports, how the premier responded was “unjustifiable, disproportionate and deeply regrettable”.

“It is alarming that the premier, without proper basis, would claim that the auditor general and his staff are 'individuals who are partially informed, spiteful and their main motive is to cause bureaucratic interference and harassment'.  Describing the auditor general as a 'hit man', as 'vindictive' and of telling 'lies of omission' is clearly a determined effort by the premier to lower the auditor general in the estimation of the general public which he serves,” he added.

However, as wrong as the behavior was, McLaughlin said it was what people had come to expect from Bush. 

“The former auditor general, Mr Dan Duguay, was the recipient of similar verbal assaults and many, including me, believe that the non-renewal of Mr Duguay’s contract was heavily influenced by the campaign waged against him by the premier.  In the present circumstances, we applaud the governor for publicly standing up to the deplorable intimidatory tactics of the premier,” the opposition leader stated.

Acknowledging a degree of tension between elected officials, public servants and the Office of the Auditor General (OAG), McLaughlin said this was a necessary part of the local system of government. The OAG is independent and constitutionally protected because of the nature of the work the office undertakes. The PPM leader said it was one of the most important checks and balances on the exercise of executive authority by those who have been elected, and unwarranted attacks on the holder of that office must be viewed very seriously as an attempt to undermine the system of government.

“The reports of the auditor general which have resulted in the firestorm from the premier have brought into focus alarming instances of political interference by the premier and other members of his government in the process of awarding government contracts.  The reports have highlighted the politicization of the government procurement process under the current administration and have shown what happens when, as the premier has declared, the regulations are overridden to ensure 'substance over process'.” 

"Although in his responses the premier has insisted that interference by him and his Cabinet has saved the country millions of dollars, in no instance has the auditor general been able to find that the political interference and the failure to follow the proper process resulted in any savings to the Cayman Islands Government,” McLaughlin added.

“On the contrary, the political interference has incurred additional costs to the Cayman Islands Government, created the risk of fraud and corruption within the government and has undermined the reputation and integrity of the Cayman Islands,” the opposition leader stated.

McLaughlin noted the auditor’s warnings of the risk for fraud and corruption and said the case studies revealed “cause for grave concern”, in particular the handling of government financing and the Cohen and Co loan deal.  The opposition leaders said the premier's claims that he saved the country $3 million in interest costs by delaying the loan were not borne out by the facts in the auditor general’s report. 

“The delay in entering into the CI$155M loan was not because of any decision of the premier,” McLaughlin stated. “It was because Cohen and Company was unable to deliver on the promised long term loan, which actually resulted in costing the government more money in both arrangement and interest costs. The premier breached the Financial Regulations, overrode the Central Tenders Committee’s decision, ignored the advice of the financial secretary and other staff in the Ministry of Finance and on the recommendation of the UDP Treasurer, Peter Young, awarded the financing contract to Cohen and Company in October, 2010,” he said.

In the end Cohen were not able to provide the promised $24M in interest costs which “were just fantasy”, McLaughlin said, adding that the concerns and criticisms of the auditor were properly founded and he encouraged Bush and his government to turn their attention to addressing them and stop interfering in the tendering process.

“While the substance of the matter is always critical, contrary to what the premier seems to believe, the process is also important and not just for compliance with the rule of law reasons,” the opposition leader noted.

“When due process is not followed it opens up the ominous prospect of corruption.  There are huge reputational implications for the Cayman Islands Government here.  It should not be forgotten by the premier that it is the Cayman Islands Government’s reputation for probity and reliability that has made it relatively easy for it to secure financing even in these hard economic times.

“The spectre of corruption has the capacity to undermine any government’s reputation, including ratings by Standard and Poors and Moodys.  If potential bidders come to believe that the process of awarding contracts is not fair, predictable and transparent, then the attractiveness of this jurisdiction as a place to invest is lost, with potentially dire consequences,” he warned.

McLaughlin dismissed the premier’s complaints about bureaucratic harassment and said he believed the “greatest impediment to investors staking their money and reputations on Cayman” was the uncertainty created by the way this present administration does business.

“The unprofessionalism, the failure to follow the law, rules and regulations, the conflicts of interests and the inappropriate demands of members of the government and their operatives” were the problem, he said.

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Civil servants wait for official nod on 3.2% COLA

| 30/08/2011 | 34 Comments

(CNS): The president of the Cayman Islands Civil Service Association says the management council has received no official word yet regarding the reinstatement of the 3.2% cost of living allowance (COLA) for public sector workers. James Watler said there had been numerous queries from the membership regarding the proposed reintroduction by the premier but he said he was still waiting to hear from the deputy governor. “We have not yet received any official communication confirming reintroduction, but acknowledge that the premier has indicated he intends to hold discussion with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” Watler said Tuesday in the wake of the public announcement by McKeeva Bush on Friday. 

“Management Council views this dialogue as helpful given the present circumstances. To this end, we have provided comments to the deputy governor and await further developments,” Watler added in a short statement.

Following revelations by government that its year end finances for 2010/11 were significantly better than had been predicted, the premier said that he wanted to return the 3.2% COLA  which had been taken away from all public sector workers last July when government was expecting to suffer a $30 million deficit in the 2010/11 financial year.

As that prediction proved to be more than $50 milllion out, with government actually ending the year with a $25 million surplus, the premier said Friday he hoped to use the money to reinstate the cost of living allowance for the civil service.

It is not clear if Bush will require permission from the FCO to do so as the government’s balance sheet is still not complying with all of the requirements of the Public Management and Finance Law as the country’s debt burden is still more than 10% of government revenue. However, as the premier has stated that government has neither intention and or need to borrow any more cash, it is no longer clear whether the premier still needs to seek UK permission for changes to the current budget.

CNS has asked the deputy governor’s office for comment regarding the COLA reinstatement and is awaiting a response.

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Police charge one after weekend of violence

| 30/08/2011 | 1 Comment

(CNS): Following a weekend of violence in which there was a shooting, a stabbing and two armed robberies police have brought charges against one of the suspects. Following an operation in East End the police arrested a 25 year old man on Sunday and charged him Tuesday morning for attempted murder. The man is accused of repeatedly stabbing another 25 year old man in the neck and upper body during an incident at the Cayman Islander Hotel on West Bay Road in the early hours of Saturday morning following the Wet-fete party. The suspect who has not yet been named was due to appear in court Tuesday. (Photo Dennie Warren Jr)

When police arrived on the scene of the stabbing at around 2:45am they said the victim was bleeding profusely and he was taken to hospital for his injuries which were discovered not to be life threatening.

The weekend was marred by further violence as police were also called to a shooting in West Bay when a teenager was shot in the hip by masked gunmen at around 5:10 in Anderson Road, West Bay. The victim was reportedly confronted by two masked men armed with a shotgun, who shot at him before making off from the scene. The suspects were described as being 5’10 and 6’ 0 in height wearing long pants with hoody-style camouflage jackets.

Then on Saturday evening a woman who suffered head injuries was treated in hospital following a robbery outside her home in Bodden Town. The victim was attacked by an armed man at about 10 pm in South Cayman Palms, Bodden Town. As she emerged from her car outside her house she was approached by an armed man. According to the police he struck her on the forehead with his gun and grabbed her handbag.  The suspect was described as being 6 ft tall, of slim build and wearing dark clothing.

On Sunday afternoon in broad daylight a man was mugged of his jewellery on a George Town Street.  The victim was confronted by two masked suspects, armed with what appeared to be handguns in Heather Lane, off Eastern Avenue. The robbers stole a gold chain and bracelet before fleeing the scene. Both were both described as being only around 5'3" in height, fair complexion, wearing white t-shirts, long jeans and black masks.

Anyone who has any information on any of thesecrimes is asked to contact George Town CID on 949-4222 or the confidential Crime Stoppers number 800-8477 (TIPS).

 

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Woman finally able to admit stabbing mother

| 30/08/2011 | 1 Comment

(CNS): A West Bay woman who has made at least a dozen court appearances since she was charged with attempted murder was finally able to speak to the court last Friday when an interpreter was present. 32 year old Laverne Gould who is deaf pleaded guilty via a sign language interpreter to wounding with intent in connection with the incident which took place on Finch Road in West Bay earlier this year. With the assistance of the interpreter Gould apologised to the court for her crime. The woman had stabbed her 63 year old mother, Leanna Ebanks, in the neck while she was sleeping but her parent has written to the court making it clear that she has forgiven her daughter for the attack which was made in a fit of temper.

Gould will now be sentenced on 7 October following the submission of a social enquiry report. Ben Tonner the defence counsel representing Gould said that mitigation would be made on behalf of his client, who has no previous convictions, outlining the circumstances of the attack in due course, but the interpreter told the court on behalf of Gould, "She's sorry about it; she never meant to do it."

The West Bay woman has been in custody since her arrest on 1 May and has made numerous court appearances but on each occasion despite continuous requests by her attorney no sign interpreter was available to assist Gould to understand the proceedings or speak for her. At the last appearance on 19 August Ben Tonner had pointed out with only two sign language interpreters working in the jurisdiction it was proving difficult to coordinate.

However, Justice Alex Henderson had ordered that a sign language interpreter be present at the next appearance and was finally able to move the stalled case along.

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AG promises more scrutiny

| 30/08/2011 | 23 Comments

(CNS): The Cayman Islands auditor general has promised more scrutiny of government procurement as it happens rather than waiting until bids are complete, in light of his recent findings. Alastair Swarbrick told the media last week that his office would be looking more closely at all bids going through the competitive tendering processes to ensure that the rules are being followed correctly. The country’s public auditor and watchdog of the public finances said he would be publishing more reports on the subject and keeping a close eye on how public funds are being spent and how the process improves.

He said that next month he would be laying out his audit plan for the coming year and pointed out that his office would also be looking at conflicts of interests that may have arisen, or can arise, during the procurement process and what guidelines are in place for when it happens. 

Since producing his first report, the auditor general has made more than forty recommendations to improve the procurement process and protect public funds. One of the main problems identified by the auditor general was the lack of leadership in the process. In his first report Swarbrick said his office was unable to find any individual at the centre of government that was responsible for managing the procurement function.

“Some senior managers claimed responsibility for managing certain aspects of the procurement process, but no one we interviewed felt it was their responsibility to establish and implement procurement policies and procedures for use throughout the Government or even in their entity and various departments,” he said. “Although senior officials are clearly aware of significant issues around procurement in the government, no one has assumed responsibility for this important function or taken any action to establish appropriate management practices and manage the associated risks.”

As a result, the very first recommendation in Swarbrick’s report published on 5 July, some eight weeks ago, was for government to appoint an individual to take over the leadership of procurement.

“The government should appoint someone as a Chief Procurement Officer who would be accountable for the overall development, management and reporting on the government’s procurement activities,” he recommended.

Following that report the governor’s office issued a statement welcoming the “thorough and frank report” which highlighted what the governor said were “serious shortcomings” in the procurement system that needed to be addressed quickly.  Duncan Taylor said he had asked Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks, as Head of the Civil Service, “to take the lead in preparing an urgent response to the report,” which would include drawing up an action plan.

CNS contacted the governor’s office last week to ask how that was progressing and if a person had been identified or recruited to take up the oversight of procurement in general. The governor’s office said the administrative arm of government was “actively working at improving the guidance on public procurement” as a result of the reports.

“We have also started work towards a broader review of procurement. We would like this review to take place as soon as possible but realise it is going to take a few months,” the office stated. “The governor is keen that, amongst other things, the review looks at how accountability might be strengthened.”

However, there was no mention of whether government intended to put in place a procurement manager from the existing senior ranks of the civil service or if a recruitment process would begin to find a suitable candidate.

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Tourist dies after snorkelling in rough waters

| 30/08/2011 | 11 Comments

(CNS): Police said that a 42-year-old man who had been snorkelling off Barkers yesterday afternoon (Monday 29 August) died after getting into difficulty. The authorities received a report at about 2:40 pm that the man was in distress on the beach in the Pappagallo area. It appears that the visitor and his partner, who are both visiting Cayman from the US, were snorkelling about 400 meters from the shore when the sea became choppy. As the pair made their way back to shore the man got into difficulties. He was assisted onto the beach and his partner administered CPR. Ambulance personnel attended the scene and the man was taken to the Cayman Islands Hospital in George Town, where he was found to be dead on arrival.

Police enquiries into the incident are ongoing but at this stage there would appear to be no suspicious circumstances.

 

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