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Think Tank: UAE remains key Middle East money laundering hub

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A report by Tactics Institiute For Security and Counter Terrorism criticised the continued money laundering activities in United Arab Emirates and called for strict rules to be implemented to end the phenomenon. The report claimed that UAE has failed in dealing with the crisis and which was exploited by Terrorist organisations and mafia groups who launder their money in real estate investment and other forms of business.

 

Previously, the world’s main anti-money laundering (AML) watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has said the United Arab Emirates needs to make “fundamental and major improvements” to ensure its systems are more effective.

 

In its latest assessment of the country, published today, the Paris-based organisation says the UAE has made “significant improvements” to its AML and countering the financing of terrorism (CFT) system in recent years and that “in many respects, the elements of an effective AML/CFT system are in place”.

 

“Fundamental and major improvements are needed across the UAE in order to demonstrate that the system cannot be used for [money laundering / terrorist financing] and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” the report says.

 

The report points out that the fragmented structure of the UAE’s economy – the seven emirates that make up the country between them operate two financial free zones, 29 commercial free zones and 39 company registries – leaves it vulnerable to regulatory arbitrage and it adds that the risk of criminals being able to conceal beneficial ownership remains high.

 

 

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Tactics institute report added that, It is not just the property market which lies exposed. The UAE has now become one of the world’s major hubs of the trade in gold and diamonds. The majority of these refineries are based in Dubai. Indeed, by 2008 the UAE was fourth in the world (behind Switzerland, China and India) in the amount of gold, by weight, that it imported17. But whereas most gold importers import gold from just a few nations, the UAE sources its supply from a diverse range. Some of these, such as the Republic of Congo, can be deeply problematic, with armed groups profiting from the sale. As we will see in Chapter 4, organised crime groups have also exploited this route, washing their ill-gotten gains through Dubai’s gold markets.

 

Free Trade Areas are yet another aspect of the UAE’s economic landscape which are open to abuse. There are approximately 45 such areas and they are largely exempt from all regulation. About thirty of these are based in Dubai and account for 41% of the city state’s trade, a contribution of 31.9% of its GDP. Once again Dubai is out front of the UEA as a whole, Free Trade areas accounting for 19.5% of total exports. The reliance of the UAE, and in particular Dubai, on FTA’s, and their relative lack of oversight, increases the risk of Trade Based Money Laundering – TBML, whereby illicit flows of money are disguised are disguised by trade transactions18.

Finally, the Hawala finance system is of concern. Hawala, or havaleh in Persian, hundi in Hindi and xawala or xawilaad in Somali, is a way of transferring money overseas which avoids traditional banking or financial networks. Consequently, it is popular among migrant workers and other who don’t have a bank account or cannot access the regular financial system.

 

The report added, “To truly shed itself of its reputation as a global centre of money laundering, the UAE needs to urgently enact similar legislation. Tara Hanlon should never have been allowed to enter Dubai with £3.5 million without explaining, and proving, a legitimate source for the money. Similarly, all the individuals mentioned in this report with luxury properties who are either politically exposed people, or who have been accused of illicit activities, should be asked to prove the origin of their assets. If they can, they can keep them. If they can’t, they should be confiscated.

To be sure, the UEA authorities will need to be brave. Many of those accused of corruption in Afghanistan are influential and well-connected. But the international community needs to pressure them to do it. And once again, other countries have led the way.”

 

Zamira Hajiyeva is the wife of Jahangir Hajiyev, a banker currently in prison in Azerbaijan, and reports of her lavish spending, which included £16.3 million at Harrods over the course of a decade, including £2000 on cold meats in a single visit, are difficult to reconcile with her husband’s official salary, which ranged between $29’000 and $70’000 per annum71.

When Tara Hanlon can simply pass through Dubai International Airport with millions in her suitcase and not have to declare their source, it’s difficult to imagine the UAE authorities demanding to know how someone like Zamira Hajiyeva can afford her spending. But only when they do, will Dubai, and the UEA more widely, become an unwelcoming place for criminals, terrorists, and those who wish to strip their countries of their wealth.

US Envoy: Solution on Migration From Haiti Has to Be Led by US, Mexico

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A solution on a new wave of migration from Haiti has to be led by both the United States and Mexico, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, said Saturday.

“It is a very significant issue for both countries, it’s a significant issue for the Western Hemisphere,” he told a news conference.

Salazar’s comments come a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on a visit following a period of strained cooperation.

The Biden administration is increasingly reliant on its southern neighbor to stem migration not only from Central America, but also Haiti and Venezuela.

Guatemalan police said that on Friday night, 126 migrants, most of them Haitians, had been abandoned in a trailer.

 

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Green Card Lottery Reopens; Past Winners Still in Limbo

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As the U.S. government officially opens its diversity visa lottery program at the start of a new fiscal year, thousands of past winners from Afghanistan, Egypt, Peru, Iran and other nations continue to endure processing delays that are dimming hopes of a new life in America.

The Biden administration announced Wednesday that registration for the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program for 2023 — popularly known as green card lottery — had begun. Congress authorized 55,000 green cards per year for immigrants around the world to promote diversity in the U.S.

Registration starts well before any given fiscal year — in this case, 2023 — to allow time for processing applications. But delays have become chronic and spawned legal action.

While accepting new applications, U.S. officials acknowledge a severe backlog in processing existing ones, many of which were filed during the former Trump administration and have been slowed by the pandemic.

For people like Samar, a 35-year-old historian from Egypt and a 2021 diversity visa winner, the window for getting authorization to travel to the U.S. is closing. An outspoken critic of human rights violations in her home country, she asked VOA not to reveal her last name.

“My fiscal year (deadline) ended on September 30, 2021. (The U.S. government) has not replied to the majority of my inquiries about my (diversity visa) case,” Samar said. “This immigration opportunity is not a luxury for my family. … My family and I have experienced police harassment since 2016. … This immigration opportunity will help me and my family start a humane and safe life.”

Visa eligibility does not transfer to the following year. The entire process must be completed in a year. With time running out, the mother of three decided to join other diversity visa winners in a lawsuit against the U.S. government in hopes of getting travel documents.

In an email to VOA, a State Department spokesperson said, “Being randomly chosen as a selectee does not guarantee that you will receive a visa or a visa interview. Selection merely means that the person is eligible to participate in the DV program.”

The explanation is of little comfort to Samar.

“My husband and I have been applying for (diversity visas) since 2000. We have three kids. We followed all procedures and submitted all required forms and documents,” she said. “We even tried to leave for the EU but couldn’t get a visa.”

Turbulent years

The diversity visa program has had bumpy years of late.

In 2017, then-President Donald Trump announced a series of actions that blocked people from Muslim-majority countries from coming to the United States.

Then, in March 2020, Trump shut down consulates around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic. His administration subsequently announced a ban on certain immigrant visas, arguing it was needed to protect the American economy.

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Biden is First President to Mark Indigenous Peoples Day

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President Joe Biden on Friday issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day, lending the most significant boost yet to efforts to refocus the federal holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus toward an appreciation of Native Americans.

The day will be observed Oct. 11, along with Columbus Day, which is established by Congress. While Native Americans have campaigned for years for local and national days in recognition of the country’s Indigenous peoples, Biden’s announcement appeared to catch many by surprise.

“This was completely unexpected. Even though we’ve been talking about it and wanting it for so long,” said Hillary Kempenich, an artist and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. In 2019, she and other tribal members successfully campaigned for her town of Grand Forks, North Dakota, to replace Columbus Day with a day recognizing Indigenous peoples.

“I’m kind of overwhelmed with joy,” said Kempenich. She was waiting Friday afternoon to share the news with her eighth-grade daughter, who grew up challenging teachers’ depictions of Columbus.

“For generations, Federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures,” Biden wrote in the Indigenous Peoples Day proclamation. “Today, we recognize Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society.”

In a separate proclamation on Columbus Day, Biden praised the role of Italian Americans in U.S. society but also referenced the violence and harm Columbus and other explorers of the age brought about on the Americas.

Making landfall in what is now the Bahamas on Oct. 12, 1492, Columbus, an Italian, was the first of a wave of European explorers who decimated Indigenous populations in the Americas in quests for gold and other wealth, including people to enslave.

“Today, we also acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities,” Biden wrote. “It is a measure of our greatness as a Nation that we do not seek to bury these shameful episodes of our past — that we face them honestly, we bring them to the light, and we do all we can to address them.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden “felt strongly” about recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day. Asked if Biden might seek to end marking Columbus Day as a federal holiday, she replied, “I don’t have any predictions at this point.”

John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, said the president’s decision to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day was an important step.

“Big changes happen from each small step, and we hope this administration intends to continue making positive steps towards shaping a brighter future for all citizens,” Echohawak said.

Biden’s acknowledgment of the suffering of Native Americans also marked a break from President Donald Trump’s ardent defense of “intrepid heroes” like Columbus in his 2020 proclamation of the holiday.

“Sadly, in recent years, radical activists have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’ legacy,” Trump said at the time. “These extremists seek to replace discussion of his vast contributions with talk of failings, his discoveries with atrocities, and his achievements with transgressions.”

Biden made the announcement on the same day the White House was disclosing its plans to restore territory to two sprawling national monuments in Utah that Trump had stripped of protections. One, Bears Ears, is on land that Native American tribes consider sacred.

Biden’s campaign against Trump saw tribal activists mobilize to get out votes for the Democrat, in activism that tribal members credited with helping Biden win some Western states.

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Top Iran Security Official Says Biden Illegally Threatened Tehran

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DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – A top Iranian security official accused U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday of illegally threatening Iran by saying he may consider other options if nuclear diplomacy with Tehran fails.

“The emphasis on using ‘other options’ against [Iran] amounts to threatening another country illegally and establishes Iran’s right to reciprocate … against ‘available options’,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said on Twitter.

Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in White House talks on Friday that he was putting “diplomacy first” to try to rein in Iran’s nuclear program but that if negotiations fail, he would be prepared to turn to other unspecified options.

The U.N. atomic watchdog said in a report this month that Iran had accelerated its enrichment of uranium to near weapons-grade, a move raising tensions with the West as both sides seek to resume talks on reviving Tehran’s nuclear deal.

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Possible ‘Havana Syndrome’ Incidents Probed in Harris Delay from Singapore to Vietnam

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HANOI – U.S. officials are continuing to investigate two possible cases of so-called Havana Syndrome health incidents that delayed Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip from Singapore to Vietnam.

The investigation was in its early stages and officials deemed it safe for Harris to make her scheduled stop in Vietnam, after initially hitting pause for a few hours on Tuesday. Havana Syndrome is the name for a rash of mysterious health incidents first reported by American diplomats and other government employees in the Cuban capital beginning in 2016. Harris on her trip is reassuring Asian allies after the tumultuous evacuation of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

U.S. officials had not yet confirmed the latest reported Havana Syndrome case, and it did not involve anyone traveling with Harris, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. In light of the reports, “there was an assessment done of the safety of the vice president, and there was a decision made that she could continue travel along with her staff,” Psaki said.

There have been two separate cases of unexplained health incidents reported by U.S. personnel in Vietnam within the past week, U.S. officials said. It was not immediately clear who was impacted by the syndrome, though officials said it was not someone who worked for the vice president or the White House, according to the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.

On Wednesday, Harris appeared before U.S. diplomatic staff in Hanoi to sign a lease to a new embassy there. She didn’t weigh in directly on the Havana Syndrome situation but expressed gratitude to those working for the U.S. across the globe.

“Here’s my message to embassy staff: thank you. The people who work in our embassies around the world are extraordinary public servants who represent the best of what the United States believes itself to be and aspires to be, which is a good neighbor for our partners and our allies around the globe,” she said.

On Wednesday Harris was highlighting the announcement that the U.S. will send 1 million additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Vietnam, bringing the total U.S. vaccine donation to that country to 6 million doses.

The U.S. will also provide $23 million to help Vietnam expand distribution and access to vaccines, combat the pandemic and prepare for future disease threats. The Defense Department is also delivering 77 freezers to store vaccines throughout the country.

Some of those impacted by Havana Syndrome report hearing a loud piercing sound and feeling intense pressure in the face. Pain, nausea, and dizziness sometimes follow.

Similar, unexplained health ailments have since been reported by Americans serving in other countries, including Germany, Austria, Russia and China. A variety of theories have been floated to explain the incidents, including targeted microwaves or sonic attack, perhaps as part of an espionage or hacking effort.

Particularly alarming are revelations of at least two possible incidents in the Washington area, including one case near the White House in November in which an official reported dizziness. Administration officials have speculated that Russia may be involved, a suggestion Moscow has denied.

Congress has raised alarms over such incidents, finding rare bipartisan support in the House and Senate for continued government-wide investigation into the syndrome, response as well as support for American personnel receiving medical monitoring and treatment.

The Biden administration is facing new pressure to resolve the mystery as the number of reported cases of possible attack has sharply grown. But scientists and government officials aren’t yet certain about who might have been behind any attacks, if the symptoms could have been caused inadvertently by surveillance equipment — or if the incidents were actually attacks.

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Delta Airlines: Unvaccinated Workers Must Pay Extra for Health Care

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Delta Airlines warned its unvaccinated employees they will have to pay an additional $200 per month for their company-sponsored health care plan if they don’t get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Ed Bastian, chief executive officer of the U.S. air carrier, notified workers of the surcharge in a memo Wednesday and said it would take effect November 1.

Bastian said the surcharge was necessary because the average hospital stay to treat COVID-19 costs the airline $50,000, exposing the company to more financial risk.

Bastian said 75% of the company’s workers have been vaccinated, an increase from 72% in mid-July. He said all Delta workers who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 in recent weeks were not fully vaccinated.

Delta also said Wednesday it would stop providing paid leave starting September 30 to workers who become infected. The airline said it will also require unvaccinated workers to undergo weekly testing beginning September 12 and to wear masks in all indoor settings.

U.S. President Joe Biden has called on companies and local governments to get their employees vaccinated. A number of companies have complied, including United Airlines, which requires employees to get vaccinated by September 27 or face termination.

American and Southwest airlines are among the other large major U.S. airlines that say they are urging workers to get vaccinated but have not required it.

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Pentagon: 19,000 More Evacuated from Afghanistan

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With less than a week remaining before it pulls its last troops out of Afghanistan, the United States in the last 24 hours evacuated another 19,000 Americans and Afghans who want to leave their homeland, the Defense Department said Wednesday.

Even so, officials said another 10,000 people have crammed into the international airport in Kabul hoping to escape the country controlled by Taliban insurgents.

A total of 90 U.S. military and international flights flew from Kabul in the last day, one every 39 minutes during some periods. In all, about 88,000 people have been evacuated since the operation began a few weeks ago.

The scene at Hamid Karzai International Airport remains tense and chaotic, but Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it “will not be an American responsibility” to control airport security there after August 31, the date U.S. President Joe Biden set for ending U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Officials said they know there “are a lot of desperate people who want to leave.”

The Pentagon said that all Afghans who supported U.S. operations over the last two decades and secured visas to enter the U.S. and have reached the airport will be evacuated. That could leave many others behind, unable to reach the airport past Taliban checkpoints.

The U.S. military said it plans to continue its evacuation effort from the airport until the Tuesday deadline if needed, but toward the end will prioritize the removal of U.S. troops and military equipment. Kirby said there are currently 5,400 U.S. troops at the Kabul airport.

Pentagon officials urged U.S. lawmakers to not travel to Kabul to witness the evacuation after Representatives Seth Moulton, a Democrat, and Peter Meijer, a Republican — both of whom served military tours of duty in the Mideast — made an unannounced trip to the Afghan capital this week to assess the situation.

“We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

The lawmakers released their statement after flying out of Kabul on a chartered plane. They said that in their view, after seeing the situation firsthand and speaking to commanders on the ground, “we won’t get everyone out” before Biden’s Tuesday deadline.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Tuesday saying travel to the region by members of the House of Representatives would divert resources from the evacuation operation.

“Given the urgency of this situation, the desire of some (lawmakers) to travel to Afghanistan and the surrounding areas is understandable and reflective of the high priority that we place on the lives of those on the ground,” Pelosi said.

“However, I write to reiterate that the Departments of Defense and State have requested that (lawmakers) not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger. Ensuring the safe and timely evacuation of individuals at risk requires the full focus and attention of the U.S. military and diplomatic teams on the ground in Afghanistan.”

The Associated Press cited a senior U.S. official saying the Biden administration viewed the visit by Moulton and Meijer as unhelpful, and other officials said it was seen as a distraction to the troops who have been tasked with securing the airport to facilitate evacuation flights.

South Korea announced Wednesday it planned to evacuate around 380 people who supported the country’s official activities in Afghanistan.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Florida Building Collapse Lawsuits Seek to Get Answers, Assign Blame

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Even as the search continues over a week later for signs of life in the mangled debris of the fallen Champlain Towers South, the process of seeking answers about why it happened and who is to blame is already underway in Florida’s legal system.

Authorities have opened criminal and civil investigations into the collapse of the oceanfront condominium building, which left at least 28 confirmed dead and more than 117 unaccounted for. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle pledged to bring the matter soon before grand jurors, who could recommend criminal charges or simply investigate the cause to suggest reforms.

And at least five lawsuits have been filed on behalf of residents who survived or are feared dead. One lawyer involved in the litigation said the collapse raises widespread concerns about infrastructure issues and the trust we put in those responsible for them.

“We deserve to be able to walk into buildings without worrying that they’re going to come crumbling around us and to know that our loved ones can go to bed at night without worrying that they’re going to plummet 12 stories to the ground below in their sleep,” said Jeffrey Goodman, whose Philadelphia-based firm filed suit on behalf of the children of missing resident Harold Rosenberg.

The lawsuits filed to date accuse the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, and in some cases a local architect and engineer, of negligence for failing to address serious structural problems noted as far back as 2018. A Surfside town building inspector had also been part of the discussions, and Goodman’s firm has given notice of plans to add the town as a defendant.

“The role of building owners and architects and engineers and inspectors and safety professionals is to make sure that buildings are safe for their occupants to be in,” Goodman said.

At a hearing Friday, a judge appointed a receiver to represent the condominium association’s interests given the trauma experienced by board members, one of whom remains missing. The board has about $48 million in insurance coverage, while the oceanfront land is valued at $30 million to $50 million, the judge was told.

The judge said he hoped the litigation could be resolved quickly, perhaps within a year. Until then, he authorized the receiver, attorney Michael Goldberg, to provide $10,000 each to residents for temporary housing and $2,000 to cover funeral expenses.

Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who also represents the Rosenberg family and is seeking access to the site, said cases such as these are not just about the money.

“They want to make this a quest to find out what happened,” Mongeluzzi said. “We believe that evidence is still there.”

Attorneys for the condominium association did not respond to emails seeking comment, nor did board members themselves.

One prior case with possible legal parallels involves the 2013 collapse in Philadelphia of an unbraced wall of a building that was being demolished. It toppled onto an adjacent Salvation Army store, killing six people and injuring 13, with one woman found alive 13 hours later losing both legs and forced to endure more than 30 surgeries before her death this year.

In the trials that followed, a civil jury found the Salvation Army, the building’s owner and his architect largely responsible, and the parties agreed to pay $227 million in damages.

On the criminal side, the architect received immunity in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors, while a food cart operator-turned-contractor was acquitted of third-degree felony murder charges but sentenced to 15 to 30 years for involuntary manslaughter; a forklift driver who was taking prescription drugs for an injury also went to prison.

The collapse also prompted the city of Philadelphia to send inspectors out to examine demolition sites and led to toughened regulations.

In Florida, a grand jury is still reviewing the 2018 collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University that killed six people. And both manslaughter and third-degree felony murder charges were filed following the 1996 accidental crash of ValuJet 592 in the Everglades that killed 110 people.

Denis Bender, a tort law professor at Chapman University in Orange County, Calif, who studies wide-scale disasters, sees a growing tendency in such cases not just to seek damages but to pursue criminal charges, often for negligence. That may be because, more and more, we see them happen in real or near-real time, as happened with the harrowing images beamed from Surfside around the world in the last week.

“I think it’s increasing because of the media and social media — not necessarily because there’s a drumbeat out there, but everybody’s horrified by what they can see. And there’s this cry for justice,” Binder said.

“On something spectacular like this, in today’s world, there’s great pressure to find fault,” he said. “And there’s enough evidence already (in Surfside) that people have made bad decisions.”

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Pentagon cancels $10bn ‘Jedi’ contract

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The Pentagon is scrapping a multibillion dollar cloud computing contract, which sparked a row between Microsoft and Amazon.

The US Department of Defense said the $10bn contract no longer met its current needs due to the “shifting technology environment”.

Microsoft was awarded the contract, but Amazon claimed President Trump had influenced the decision.

Amazon and Microsoft will both have the opportunity to bid for a new contract.

After Microsoft won the massive Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (Jedi) contract, it drew complaints and a legal challenge from tech rival Amazon, which claimed that the choice was politically motivated.

The Department of Defense (DoD) said in a statement on Tuesday: “With the shifting technology environment, it has become clear that the Jedi Cloud contract, which has long been delayed, no longer meets the requirements to fill the DoD’s capability gaps.”

It added that it would seek new proposals “from a limited number of sources”, including both Amazon and Microsoft.

The two tech giants are the only suppliers it said would be capable of meeting the brief, although it would consider other firms.

The Jedi system was designed to replace the DoD’s ageing computer networks with one single cloud system, which would have hosted classified secrets and provided artificial intelligence-based analysis to the military.

But after the work was awarded to Microsoft in 2019, Amazon – which was seen as the favourite for the project – filed a legal challenge to object.

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