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India arrests powerful baron on charges of illegal mining

NEW DELHI — One of India’s most powerful mining barons, whose political clout and wealth have made him a controversial national figure, was arrested Monday as investigators raided his offices and seized about $1 million in cash and more than 66 pounds of gold.

Until recently, the mining baron, Janardhana Reddy, was a kingmaker in the southern state of Karnataka, where his family and allies once dominated important ministries in the state government. From his base in the Bellary District, home to some of India’s richest reserves of iron ore, Reddy controlled a mining empire in Karnataka and the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh and made untold millions of dollars exporting ore to China and elsewhere.

Reddy’s arrest comes as public disgust over official corruption has boiled over in India. He was charged with illegal mining in Andhra Pradesh, after a Monday morning raid at his headquarters in Bellary. According to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, “several incriminating documents” were confiscated, as well as the cash and gold, itself worth more than $1 million. He was also charged with fraud and criminal conspiracy.

“It was a mafia-like system,” said N. Santosh Hegde, a former justice on India’s Supreme Court who spent more than two years investigating illegal mining in Karnataka as an independent state-level ombudsman. “That district had become the Republic of Bellary. It is not part of India.”

—Hari Kumar and Jim Yardley, The New York Times

Famine spreads in Somalia

NAIROBI, Kenya — The United Nations announced Monday that Somalia’s famine had spread to a sixth area within the country, with officials warning that 750,000 people could die in the next few months unless aid efforts were scaled up.

A combination of drought, war, restrictions on aid groups and years of chaos have pushed 4 million Somalis — more than half the population — into “crisis,” according to the United Nations. Agricultural production is just a quarter of what it normally is, and food prices continue to soar.

“We can’t underestimate the scale of the crisis,” said Mark Bowden, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia. “Southern Somalia is the epicenter of the famine area in the Horn of Africa. It’s the source of most of the refugees, and we need to refocus our efforts.”

When pushed for numbers on how many people have died across Somalia so far, Bowden said: “We can’t give an exact figure, but we can say tens of thousands of people have died over the last three to four months, over half of whom are children. That translates into hundreds a day.”

Somalia has lurched from crisis to crisis since its central government collapsed in 1991. There have been more than a dozen attempts to restore a functioning central government, and the United Nations is currently holding a conference in Mogadishu to bring political leaders together to discuss future plans.

—Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Times

Corruption trial for former French president reopens

PARIS — The trial of former President Jacques Chirac of France on corruption charges will proceed without Chirac having to be present, a court decided Monday, citing the poor state of Chirac’s mental health.

“Mr. Chirac will not be ordered to appear in person, and as a result he shall be tried in his absence, represented by his lawyers,” the court said in a statement.

The court acted after assessing a neurologist’s report provided by Chirac’s lawyers, who had asked for the ruling.

When the corruption trial reopened Monday after a six-month hiatus, Chirac was absent, and his lawyers told the court that he suffered from memory loss and was too ill to appear.

Chirac, 78, is the first French former head of state to be put on trial since Marshal Philippe Petain, who was convicted of treason at the end of World War II. Chirac is accused of breach of trust and embezzlement in approving the creation of 28 fake jobs in the 1990s for cronies and party political operatives.

Chirac has denied the charges. If he is convicted, the maximum sentence would be 10 years in jail and a fine of just more than $200,000, but it is highly unlikely that the court would sentence him to any jail time.

Chirac was mayor of Paris 1977-1995, when he was elected president. He had immunity from prosecution until he left the presidency in 2007, and his lawyers have been fighting since then to avoid a trial.

—Steven Erlanger, The New York Times

GM wants the Volt in China, but the Chinese want its secrets

TIANJIN, China — As GM prepares to start selling its new Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid here by the end of this year, the Chinese government is putting heavy pressure on the company to share some of the car’s core technology.

The Chinese government is refusing to let the Volt qualify for subsidies totaling up to $19,300 a car unless GM agrees to transfer the engineering secrets for one of the Volt’s three main technologies to a joint venture in China with a Chinese automaker, GM officials said.

Some international trade experts said China would risk violating World Trade Organization rules if it imposed that requirement.

The demand is the latest example of China’s willingness to use the leverage of Western access to the vast Chinese market to extract concessions on advanced technologies. Policies to force technology transfers from non-Chinese companies have already helped this nation build big industries in areas like wind turbines, high-speed trains and water purification.

Western companies have complained that the tactics create an uneven playing field for business ventures trying to compete with domestic Chinese industries.

The dispute over the Volt threatens to lead to another trade dispute with the West and could affect the dynamics of a visit to China this month by the U.S. energy secretary, Steven Chu.

—Keith Bradsher, The New York Times