First Thing: leaders’ financial secrets exposed in biggest ever offshore leak

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The secret deals and hidden assets of some of the world’s richest and most powerful people have been revealed in the biggest trove of leaked offshore data in history.

Known as the Pandora papers, the cache includes 11.9m files from companies hired by wealthy clients to create offshore structures and trusts in tax havens such as Panama, Dubai, Monaco, Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.

They expose the secret offshore affairs of 35 world leaders, including current and former presidents, prime ministers and heads of state. They also shine a light on the secret finances of more than 300 other public officials such as government ministers, judges, mayors and military generals in more than 90 countries.

Royal connection. The files show Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family has traded close to £400m of UK property in recent years. One of their properties was sold to Queen Elizabeth II’s crown estate, which is now looking into how it came to pay £67m to a company that operated as a front for the family that runs a country routinely accused of corruption. The Aliyevs declined to comment.

Russian kleptocracy. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, whom the US suspects of having a secret fortune, does not appear in the files by name. But numerous close associates do, including his best friend from childhood – the late Petr Kolbin – whom critics have called a “wallet” for Putin’s wealth, and a woman the Russian leader was allegedly once romantically involved with. None responded to invitations to comment.

At least $11tn held offshore. “This is money that is being lost … [which] could be used to recover from Covid,” said Gerard Ryle, the director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

US sees drop in Covid cases and hospitalizations

San Francisco’s famous cable cars returned to service in September after many months on pause because of Covid. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A dramatic drop in Covid hospitalizations and a 29% fall in confirmed cases have been welcomed as a sign that the Delta wave has peaked in the US.

The downward trend has been attributed to increased immunity – because of vaccination or natural infection – and because of more risk-averse behavior. However, seven states have reported at least a 14% increase in cases over the same period.

In the US, the vaccination rate has slowed owing to a mix of political and religious opposition, fears over safety, and concerns from communities of color wary of previous racist treatment by healthcare institutions. The proportion of the population fully vaccinated is 56%.

Is the worst over? “Will the next surges be as big as this current one? It’s not likely, but it’s possible,” said Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

When will life return to normal? “It’s not really fully answerable by science. It’s also about people’s comfort,” said one epidemiologist. “That is one of the challenges for me in sorting through all this data.”

Large California oil spill fouls beaches and kills wildlife

California oil spill fouls beaches and kills wildlife – video

An oil spill of at least 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters), one of the largest in Southern California’s ignominious sea life protection history, fouled popular beaches and killed wildlife off Orange county.

The oil created a miles-wide sheen in the ocean and washed ashore in sticky, black globules along with dead birds and fish – causing a four-mile beach closure as strong fumes from the oil were carried on the sea breeze.

Officials canceled the final day of the annual Pacific air show that typically draws thousands of spectators to Huntington Beach. The oil slick originated from a broken pipeline connected to an offshore oil platform known as Elly, according to an official.

Latest massive spillage. In 1990, an oil tanker spilled 417,000 gallons of crude, killing fish and 3,400 birds. In 2015, a pipeline rupture pipeline sent 143,000 gallons of crude gushing.

Incredulity. “There’s tar everywhere,” said Ben Smith, an environmental consultant for Orange county. “You think by now we would have figured out how to keep this kind of thing from happening, but I guess not.”

Sanders urges progressives to be firm in Biden agenda battle

Bernie Sanders talks to reporters on Thursday as infrastructure negations continue in Washington DC. Photograph: Nathan Posner/Rex/Shutterstock

The senator Bernie Sanders has said the outcome of the next few weeks will be critical not just for the future of American working families but also for the country’s political future, amid uncertainty over whether two massive legislative bills central to Joe Biden’s economic and social policy agenda would pass.

But the leftwing leader remains bullish about the chances of his side prevailing, with two flanks of the Democratic party at loggerheads. “We have the American people very strongly on our side, we have the president of the United States on our side, we have 96% of the Democratic caucus of the House on our side, and we’ve got all but two senators on our side. We’re going to win this thing,” he told ABC News.

Biden’s two key legislative measures – the $1tn infrastructure bill and the $3.5tn social and environmental plan – hang in the balance amid skepticism from a handful of Democratic centrists.

‘This is a test of whether American democracy can work’. With a new deadline for passing the laws looming, Sanders added: “I hope and expect that the Democratic party and the president – I know he will – will stand firm.”

‘Popular policies’. “Poll after poll shows what we are doing is exactly what the American people want. It’s not what the big money interests want … and we’ve got to do it,” he said.

In other news …

Lars Vilks was largely unknown outside Sweden before the Muhammad drawings were published. Photograph: Lehtikuva Lehtikuva/Reuters

The Swedish artist Lars Vilks has died in a car crash , after living under police protection since his 2007 sketch caricaturing the prophet Muhammad brought death threats.

Six passengers and a crew of two died after a private plane being flown by one of Romania’s richest men crashed into the side of an empty office building in Milan, with the causes of the disaster under investigation.

the supermodel Emily Ratajkowski accused the singer Robin Thicke of sexually assaulting her – groping her bare breasts from behind – on a music video set for the controversial 2013 hit Blurred Lines. Thicke’s representatives have not responded to a request for comment.

Pleas for clemency on behalf of the convicted murderer Ernest Lee Johnson are growing as two members of the US Congress said his execution would perpetuate cycles of trauma, with Pope Francis also calling for mercy.

Stat of the day: teacher vacancies rise up to 67% in some states

Joe Biden, alongside teacher Michelle Taylor, speaks to students in a 6th grade science class, at Brookland middle school in Washington DC last month. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Teachers around the US are quitting or retiring early amid frustrations about Covid. In Florida, teacher vacancies increased by more than 67% compared with August 2020, with a 38.7% increase from August 2019. Elsewhere, public schools in Michigan recorded a 44% increase in midyear teacher retirements this past school year compared with the 2019-20 school year. In Fort Worth, Texas, the school district had 314 vacant teacher jobs at the beginning of this school year, compared with 71 in 2019.

Don’t miss this: how Covid changed the way we see our faces

‘It feels juvenile as a 40-year-old woman to think about my looks like a teenager, because there are bigger problems in the world.’ Illustration: Ulises Mendicutty/The Guardian

A Massachusetts dermatologist who coined the term “Zoom dysmorphia” amid a rise in remote meetings during the pandemic has said that even with the return to workplaces for many, consultation requests for cosmetic procedures are not slowing. After her clinic reopened for in-person appointments last summer, Shadi Kourosh noticed a huge rise in demand for cosmetic procedures such as Botox, injectable fillers, laser resurfacing and chemical peels.

Last Thing: Alaska to choose chubbier and hibernation-prepared bear

Bear number 747 is described as the river’s most dominant male bear. Photograph: N Boak/Katmai national park and preserve/PA

A seven-year-old competition held in October to choose the fattest, most gorged and hibernation-prepared bear in Katmai national park and preserve in Alaska is to go ahead as part of Fat Bear Week. The interpretation and education program manager at the park said dominant adult males might catch and eat more than 30 fish a day and weigh more than 1,000lb by winter. “When you look at how much weight bears need to gain to survive six months of famine, you can’t help but cheer them on,” she said.

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