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India Wants Apology; North Korea Threatens Strike; Former Aids Found Not Guilty; GDP Grows; Mikhail Khodorkovsky Among Prisoners Granted Amnesty in Russia; Ceiling Collapses in London Theater; World Cup in Murder Capitol of the World

Aired December 20, 2013 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: And we have a verdict in the trial of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson's former aides. Well, now Lawson, she is slamming the defense for ruining her reputation by asking questions about her cocaine use.

Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company today.

Well, an apology from the United States, that's what India wants, in part at least, for the humiliating arrest, as they see it, of one of its diplomats in New York.

MALVEAUX: We are talking about India's deputy consul general was handcuffed, strip searched, jailed last week before being released on bail. And she is charged with visa fraud for allegedly lying about how much she was paying her nanny. Well, prosecutors say she was giving the nanny far below the minimum wage.

HOLMES: The diplomat has pleaded not guilty to all of this, denies all of it, but it has tensions between the U.S. and India escalating pretty much daily. Let's go to New Delhi. Our Mallika Kapur is standing by there.

You sat down with the foreign minister there. How does he think this is going to play out? An uproar diplomatically is not in anyone's interests.

MALLIKA KAPUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, it's not in anyone's interests. And I did get the feeling, Michael, that he is very, very keen to resolve this issue as soon as possible. There was definitely a distinct feeling that he wants to put this incident behind him and he gets the feeling that the U.S. wants to do that as well.

How does he resolve it? Well, he said it's not really up to him to lay down a laundry list of conditions. But having said that, he says what India really wants from the U.S. is to see the U.S. withdraw the charges against its diplomat. He says the charges are unfair and, frankly speaking, he said if the U.S. had noticed a problem between two Indian citizens, an Indian diplomat and her Indian nanny, well, then the U.S. should have referred the matter back to India. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SALMAN KHURSHID, INDIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: And then, if you have a problem, if you have a problem about compliance with the labor law, just tell us. I mean, what would we do? Either withdraw the person, the employee, or just negotiate some exceptions. And they are possible. It can be done. They can be bilateral exceptions. They have been done and they can be done.


KAPUR: He said by not sending the matter back to India, it's a slight on the Indian judicial system and that's uncalled for and that's just unfair.

MALVEAUX: And, Mallika, what did the foreign minister say about removing those traffic barriers from outside the U.S. embassy? Is there any movement on that?

KAPUR: Yes, I did ask him about that and he was very careful to say, let me remind you, let me make it clear that they're not security barriers. He told me that they were simply traffic barriers. He said that they had placed the traffic barriers outside the U.S. embassy, of course, to help ease congestion in the area and that it was a friendly gesture, a gesture of courtesy, which India had extended to a friend, the United States.

And he said, when we get the feeling that the country isn't really being that friendly anymore, we simply took away that courtesy. He says we're not being hostile, we're not being tough, but we do believe in reciprocity. And if the U.S. isn't being that friendly, well, that's why we took away the traffic barriers. But he insisted at no point, at no point did he say that he was scaling back security of the U.S. diplomats inside and they remain as safe as ever in India.

MALVEAUX: So as a courtesy, is he thinking of putting them back there?

KAPUR: Not yet. I think - I think they'll have to resolve this issue before they do that.

MALVEAUX: All right. Mallika Kapur, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Obviously a lot of work still ahead.

HOLMES: Yes. They'll sort it out.

MALVEAUX: You know, I mean there are little things, or big things, but, you know, it is all about, you know, how it looks and diplomacy very much perception.

HOLMES: Both sides want to sort this one out. They don't want it to get out of control, that's for sure.

Let's turn now to another part of the world, the Korean peninsula, always a little bit tense there. And a new threat today coming from North Korea, interestingly by fax. They still have one of those.

MALVEAUX: Yes, they're faxing. They're actually threatening an attack on the South without notice. The threat came, as you mentioned, by fax. And the threat comes as former baseball star Dennis Rodman making a return visit to Pyongyang for what he is calling basketball diplomacy. Anna Coren, she is in Seoul with the details on both of these new developments.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne and Michael, after a period of relative calm on the Korean peninsula, North Korea has issued a warning to South Korea threatening to strike mercilessly if anti- regime protests continue here in the capital. Well, the South Korean government responded saying if there was any provocation, it would retaliate.

Now, the U.S. and South Korean governments believe that North Korea is preparing for an act of aggression following the political instability in the country. Just last week, North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un had his uncle executed after he was convicted of treason.

Well, Kim is currently hosting former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who's in Pyongyang coaching North Korea's basketball team. Well, they're preparing for an exhibition game against an American team made up of ex-professional players to celebrate Kim's birthday next month. The two men have become close friends. This is Rodman's third trip to the hermit kingdom this year.

While Rodman says he's not interested in politics or raising the issue of human rights, nor is he willing to bring up the imprisonment of American missionary Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for allegedly trying to overthrow the regime.

Now, the U.S. government insists it has not asked Rodman to replay a message to Kim Jong-un on its behalf. The two countries haven't spoken for almost two years because of North Korea's desire to develop its nuclear weapons program. But analysts believe both Washington and Seoul will be closely watching Rodman's trip, trying to get whatever information they can on North Korea's young dictator.

Back to you.

HOLMES: All right, Anna Coren there.

There has been a fairly speedy verdict in that million dollar fraud case against two former assistants of the celebrity chef Nigella Lawson and her ex-husband, Charles Saatchi.

MALVEAUX: The Italian sisters, Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo were found not guilty of misusing credit cards when they racked up luxury purchases worth more than $1 million. Well, CNN's Erin McLaughlin explains Nigella Lawson's confessed drug use during the trial might have tipped the jury against her.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a trial turned real life soap opera, played out in a London courtroom. The star witnesses, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, accused of habitual drug use, and her multimillionaire ex-husband Charles Saatchi, accused of intimate terrorism.

The actual defendants, their former personal assists, Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo. The prosecution alleged the sisters fraudulently abused Saatchi company credit cards to fund a million dollar lifestyle. The defense claims Nigella Lawson allowed the Grillos to spend what they wanted to hide her drug habit from Saatchi.

NEIL SEAN, ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: I think that the celebrities really need to return to the days of Downton Abby, where the staff were not friends.

MCLAUGHLIN: Lawson admitted to only having done cocaine during two separate life phases. "I did not have a drug problem," she said. "I had a life problem." She certainly had problems with Saatchi, who she cast as a brilliant but brutal man. Details of the breakdown of their marriage were divulged in court, including the now infamous argument outside a trendy London restaurant in June.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's Nigella Lawson.

MCLAUGHLIN: Tabloid photos so Saatchi's hand around her neck. Another shows his hand pinching her nose. Lawson testified the argument was over her desire to have grandchildren. And she said Saatchi spread false rumors he had been examining her for cocaine.

When Saatchi was asked in court if the argument was about drugs, he said "no." "I was holding her head by the neck to make her focus," he said. Other intimate allegations were revealed by the defense, claims Saatchi would have his assistants buy his book to improve sales and spent most of the time in his room. Nigella was accused of keeping cocaine in a hollowed out book. All of it now a part of public court record.

SEAN: I think the winners from this particular case are simply us, the public. We've devoured this great soap opera. The tabloids have done incredibly well. The media has done well out of it. But when they reflect on this, maybe in two or three months' time and they sit down and think, why did we do it?

MCLAUGHLIN: Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.


MALVEAUX: Well, the sisters still face a civil suit brought by Nigella Lawson's ex-husband, Charles Saatchi. Lawson released a statement after the verdict claiming that the trial wasn't about justice, but rather about destroying her reputation. Now, she said, "over the three-week trial, the jury was faced with a ridiculous sideshow of false allegations about drug use, which made focus on the actual criminal trial impossible."

HOLMES: All right, let's turn to Canada now. The country's supreme court ruling unanimously that the rights of prostitutes are being infringed by three key laws that make it difficult for sex workers to make a living. Now, sex for money is not illegal in Canada, but the high court found that bans on owning a brothel, advertising or hiring a bodyguard, quote, "do not pass charter muster."

MALVEAUX: So, rather than sweeping the laws aside, however, the bans will remain in force to give parliament time to actually amend them.

Here's more of what we're working for on AROUND THE WORLD.

He was Russian President Vladimir Putin's number one political rival. Well, now, Putin has released him after the oil tycoon was in prison for years. Could this actually come back to haunt him?

HOLMES: Unbelievable scenes too. A baby crying and abandoned, just one casualty, this in the Central African Republic's growing violence. Check out these pictures. Found alone in the bush. The U.S. gets more involved in this story, by the way, as the African nation looks like it could turn into another Rwanda. People hope it won't, but there are fears.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

A bit of an early Christmas present for Wall Street. Government figures showing that the gross domestic product, the GDP, grew at an annual rate of more than 4 percent in the third quarter.

MALVEAUX: We actually haven't seen the GDP grow like that in nearly two years. People are now spending more money, businesses are investing more in property and equipment. Together they're helping improve the overall economy. The Dow and the S&P hit an all-time high over the news. CNN's Richard Quest joining us now.

So, Richard, I think this caught people by surprise, yes? I mean the expectations weren't this high.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. And we had a - we had an earlier number of 3.6, which had started out at 2.8. So what we saw with this number is it steadily got larger as each revision came out to the point where we're now at 4.1. And if we look at the year overall, I've got the numbers in front of me, you see first quarter is 1.1 percent growth, second quarter 2.5, and now you get this gangbuster quarter for the third.

What it shows is what we now know from the Fed and from all different sorts of sides. The U.S. economy is picking up speed. Now, whether it's fast enough to make sizable inroads into unemployment is a different issue, but no doubt about it, the U.S. economy is recovering and faster than we believed.

HOLMES: Yes. Is it sustainable, Richard?

QUEST: In a short answer, yes, because all the black clouds are starting to dissipate. Notably, Congress's passing of the budget. That was a big worry for January. Now, if the Republicans decide to go to battle with the Democrats over the debt ceiling in February, that will be a worry. But we know -- let's just go by what we know. We've got this faster growth on GDP.

We've got unemployment down at 7 percent. We've got tapering now underway and going to go right the way through 2014. We've got a stock market that's at an all-time high and is probably not a bubble. It's frothy, not a bubble. Factor all that in, and you end up with not exactly a rosy scenario, but let me put it as a comfortable scenario.

HOLMES: Frothy but not a bubble. That makes me want a beer. All right. I want to ask you about another big story coming out of Russia. And that is Vladimir Putin letting someone who was his biggest critic for years out of prison, ten years he served.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, put away on tax evasion and fraud charges, but a lot of people felt he was in fact a political prisoner. It was more about Putin trying to get rid of a rival. I actually spoke to his son Pavel a little bit earlier. Let's listen to what he had to say.


PAVEL KHODORKOVSKY, MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY'S SON: My father doesn't have political ambitions. It's up to him, of course, to decide what he wants to do. I think first items on his list are his family and his friends right now.


HOLMES: Of course, Richard, he was a big player in Russia, the richest man in the country for a while now. Does this feel a little bit like Putin sort of air brushing things a little bit dealing with the anti- gay laws, Sochi coming up, the winter games?

QUEST: Absolutely. He says he did it on humanitarian grounds because Khodorkovsky's mother is unwell, but if you look at what is going on in Russia at the moment, you've got Khodorkovsky having sudden amnesty out of the blue. Apparently he requested it November 12th.

You've got this amnesty for many people locked up, 20,000 people will get amnesty including members of the Pussy Riot's musical band that have been locked up. So, left and right, you've got them sweeping up to try and pretty up the picture before the world arrives on their doorstep in February for the winter Olympics. Whether or not that works, we can't say. That's for individuals to decide.

But let's not forget, Khodorkovsky was convicted and has served ten years in prison. It's not exactly as if this amnesty -- he was due to be released next year anyway. It's not exactly as if this amnesty is the largesse of the greatness.

HOLMES: Yeah, he was due out in August. That's very true. Richard, good to see you. Richard Quest request the there in New York.

MALVEAUX: Yes, he was one of the richest men in Russia.

HOLMES: The richest man.

MALVEAUX: He doesn't have riches anymore.

HOLMES: He has a little bit left over. His son was telling me he's got a few dollars tucked away, but not billions like he used to have.

MALVEAUX: We are learning now why a U.S. general in charge of nuclear weapons was relieved of duty. Apparently a trip to Moscow was the last straw. An Air Force investigative report says major general Michael Carrie was drinking, he was bragging about, quote, "hot women he met" and he was late to meetings and rude to his hosts.

Two examples from the report, Carrie kept interrupting the guy during a monastery tour and tried to give her an awkward fist bump, another time tried to sing with a band at a restaurant and left his delegation to hang out with other women. They say his behavior didn't affect nuclear weapons operations but he is now with the Air Force space operation.

HOLMES: Whoops. Now let's talk about the Brazilian city of Salvador getting ready the world for the biggest sporting event there is. We're talking about the World Cup, but is the world ready for Salvador? This beautiful beach city is also Brazil's murder capital.


HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone, to London now. Police are now saying that no criminal act was involved when a large section of ceiling plaster fell down in the middle of a performance at the historic Apollo theater -- 112 years old. Investigators are eager to find out though why it happened and whether other old buildings in that theater district -- perhaps prone to a similar sort of accident.

MALVEAUX: At least 79 people were hurt in the falling debris, seven being treated for serious injuries. Incredibly, no one was killed. The theater opened in 1901, it was named for the Greek god of arts. The Apollo. The theater same name opened in New York City's Harlem more than a dozen years later. In the report, CNN's Erin McLaughlin says it shocked witnesses, that their faces were smeared with grime, they described what happened.


MCLAUGHLIN(voice-over): It was certainly not your typical Thursday night at London's historic, Apollo Theater. An audience of over 700 people, families and children had assembled for a performance of "The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night Time." And then --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A loud bang, I don't think it was an explosion, and the ceiling came down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just thought it was sound effects of the theater and then, yes, we just looked up and the whole ceiling was like slow motion.

MCLAUGHLIN: Parts of the roof started caving in. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of dust, chandelier, wood, all that sort of stuff, landed on about five or six rows.

MCLAUGHLIN: And panic erupted inside the auditorium.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was right next to the steward. We were at the back. He looked at me and had panic. He said run, everybody get out.

MCLAUGHLIN: Witnesses say people stayed calm and helped one another. Quickly, everyone was out. Injured people, bloody and in shock, were treated at the scene, some taken to the hospital aboard a London bus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't want to go into too much detail about the why and what's happened. Suffice to say there's been a collapse of heavy plaster from what appears to be the roof of the auditorium within the theater.

MCLAUGHLIN: British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted his thanks for the first responders. "I'm grateful for the fast work of the emergency services and helping the injured."

As for the cause of the collapse, that's still unclear. The police later saying there is no suggestion at this stage that this was the result of a criminal act. However, at this stage, we are keeping an open mind.

Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.


HOLMES: Thousands of soccer fans from all over the world are going to be traveling to Brazil and in particular Salvador, Brazil for the World Cup. Many of them might not realize they're headed into the murder capital of South America's biggest country.

MALVEAUX: Salvador is having terrible problems with drug gangs and violence. Officials aren't just preparing the city for the moment in the world's spotlight, they're just trying to make it safe for visitors. Here's CNN's Shasta Darlington.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Crispy acatage (ph) fritters served up by smiling women in traditional dress. Capoeira performers twisting through the air in mock fights. Some of the many sights awaiting visitors to Salvador, a World Cup city along Brazil's northeastern coast.

Unfortunately, so is this: a police blitz on buses coming to and from a nearby slum. Male passengers are separated and searched for arms and drugs. Then, women's handbags are checked. At the end, a brief explanation.

We're trying to prevent robberies of buses, he says. Thank you, and we apologize for the inconvenience. A popular tourist destination with pretty beaches, colonial architecture and a raucous carnival, it also has a somewhat darker side. In recent years, a surge in violent crime has turned Salvador into the murder capital of Brazil. Raising red flags as the city gears up for the World Cup just six months away. The stadium's been ready for months. They played the Confederations Cup here but people tell us there's still a lot of work to do in Salvador.

Crime is the main concern. People don't feel safe, says this man. Mostly because of drugs. The government is worried, says another woman. But I think with the steps they're taking, we'll see good results.

Then there's transportation. Construction on an urban train system began more than a decade ago, but still isn't operating. Salvador's new mayor says he's hoping to have it at least partially running in time for the football extravaganza.

I think the balance is going to be positive, he says. The World Cup is going to allow people to see another Brazil they haven't seen. He says crime is finally starting to decline, thanks to government crackdowns, and it's concentrated in the slums.

Well, these problems affect act tourists? He says, do they happen in places tourists go to? No. At least that's the hope for the thousands of fans who will want to follow their teams up close during the World Cup. Starting with the very first match in Salvador between Spain and Holland.

Shasta Darlington, CNN, Salvador, Brazil.


MALVEAUX: And we're waiting this. President Obama due to talk to reporters in 90 minutes before leaving on vacation in Hawaii. Among the questions we can expect, what does the president plan to do about a proposal in Congress to ramp up sanctions against Iran? Our own Wolf Blitzer is going to join us with a preview just ahead.