George Lucas’ Film Empire Tops Forbes List of Richest US Celebrities

Filmmaker George Lucas’ Star Wars empire — the movie franchise, not Darth Vader’s fictional galactic government — planted him firmly atop Forbes magazine’s third annual ranking of the wealthiest U.S. celebrities which was released Tuesday.

The net worth of the 74-year-old writer, director, producer and creator of the enduring space saga was estimated at $5.4 billion, leading a list that also included athletes, musicians and one wealthy illusionist.

Most of Lucas’ wealth came from the $4.05 billion sale of the LucasFilm production company to Walt Disney Co. in 2012, Forbes said.

The figures on the list are Forbes’ estimates based on the celebrities’ known holdings of real estate, art and shares of companies both public and private, as well as other assets and estimated lifetime earnings. Reuters has not independently confirmed the figures.

Fellow filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who turned 72 on Tuesday, came in second, with an estimated $3.7 billion net worth.

Spielberg’s career as director, writer and producer spans some 50 years with credits that include Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.

The celebrities on the list had estimated combined assets of $18.7 billion, more than the gross domestic product of Iceland, Forbes said.

The richest female celebrity was Oprah Winfrey, 64, whose acting and media enterprises have yielded her a net worth of an estimated $2.8 billion, third overall.

Basketball legend Michael Jordan boosted his net worth by an estimated $400 million in the past year, mostly off his 34-year-long sneaker deal with Nike Inc and his stake in the Charlotte Hornets. His estimated $1.7 billion net worth ranked him fourth.

New to the Forbes list this year was Kylie Jenner, whose growing wealth from her Kylie Cosmetics are on track to make the 21-year-old the youngest ever self-made billionaire, the magazine said.

Jenner was tied with Rapper Jay-Z at No. 5, each with fortunes estimated at $900 million.

Rounding out the list were illusionist and entertainer David Copperfield, who amassed his fortune through a grueling pace of 600 shows per year in Las Vegas, rapper Diddy, golfer Tiger Woods and author James Patterson.

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African Art Restitution Claims Gain Traction 

When a private museum in Benin displayed artifacts from the ancient Dahomey kingdom a decade ago, roughly a quarter-of-a-million Beninese flocked to see the exhibit — a stunning turnout for the tiny West African country. 

There was only one hitch: although the pieces were part of its heritage, they didn’t belong to Benin, but rather were on loan from former colonial power France. 

The next time Benin exhibits Dahomey art may be under very different circumstances. France has promised to return 26 royal artifacts taken by the French army in 1892—a move that may prove a watershed for other African restitution claims.

“If Benin succeeds in showing its heritage I think everything will change,” says Marie-Cecile Zinsou, a French-Beninese who counts among Africa’s most vocal restitution advocates and whose Zinsou Foundation hosted the Dahomey exhibit in 2006. “Then you’ll have a real example of how African countries are getting their heritage back and showing it to the public. Then people will believe.”

Macron report recommends return

After years of rebuffing restitution arguments, France is now catalyzing new hope — and concern — that tens of thousands of artifacts taken from former African colonies might head back to their places of origin. The first signs of a turnaround came in Burkina Faso last year, when French President Emmanuel Macron promised to temporarily or permanently return Africa’s patrimony to the continent within five years. 

The latest breakthrough came in November, when a pair of academics delivered a groundbreaking report, commissioned by Marcon, which recommended France permanently return objects acquired through “theft, looting, despoilment, trickery and forced consent.” 

In a continent where 60 percent of the population is under 20, young people should have “access to their own culture, creativity and spirituality from other eras,” Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and French historian Bénédicte Savoy wrote. “The youth of Africa as much as the youth of France and Europe in general, have a right to their artistic and cultural heritage.”

Today, the report is sparking cascading restitution claims in Africa, although most are not yet official. Benin, which for years demanded its plundered artifacts be restored, is the first beneficiary. 

But others include Ivory Coast and Senegal, where Senegalese Culture Minister Abdou Latif Coulibaly said “if we have 10,000 (objects in France), we want the 10,000.”  

Museum directors in Mali and Chad have announced their countries were ready and able to house artifacts currently located in France and elsewhere. And in Democratic Republic of Congo, President Joseph Kabila said he would officially request former colonial power Belgium to return objects acquired during years of brutal rule. 

The French report is also sparking some action in other western countries. 

Last week, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution supporting returning objects to their countries of origin, calling on member states to create databases and step up the fight against art trafficking. The British museum has promised to return priceless bronzes to Nigeria. And Germany is helping Kenya track its valuable stolen artifacts that ended up in western museums, including German ones. 

Powering restitution arguments is a sobering statistic: up to 90 percent of African antiquities are located outside the continent. That includes in France, where an estimated 90,000 African artifacts are housed in French museums, mostly the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum in Paris. 

Where to house returned artifacts?

Meanwhile, new museums are sprouting or in the works across Africa, which — according to proponents — counters arguments the region cannot properly house its heritage. Senegal’s Museum of Black Civilizations opened its doors in Dakar earlier this month, while last year Ivory Coast reopened its national museum that had been shuttered during a protracted civil war. Gabon, DRC and Benin are also in the process of building or revamping art spaces. 

“African countries will obviously deal with their heritage, that’s not a question,” says Zinsou, who notes Benin has announced it would open three museums and renovate six others. 

Some are not so sure. “We know the shortage in African museums” of proper conservation, art expert Alexandre Guigello told Agence France-Presse news agency, reflecting concerns echoed in other European capitals. 

France’s culture minister supports loaning artifacts to Africa rather than permanent returns, while Quai Branly museum head Stephane Martin described the restitution report as a bad answer,” telling Le Figaro newspaper there were “other ways to engage in cultural cooperation with Africa.” 

Former French culture minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon offered a more dramatic response, predicting in a Le Figaro op-ed that returning the artifacts would “empty the museums,” leaving only copies.

Indeed, the report raises a slew of questions about the fine print of restituting African heritage— and suggests French law, enshrining the inalienability of public collections, must be changed to do so. 

“It is also not clear what exactly Macron’s temporary or definitive restitution’ entails,” adds Charline Kopf, a doctoral researcher at the University of Oslo who has examined the debate.

Returning art to places whose borders have shifted over the years poses still other headaches. While current restitution claims are being made by African nations, “sometimes such claims are also made by indigenous communities … and do not neatly correspond to boundaries on a map,” Kopf adds. 

Robert Jonard, who sells African artifacts in Paris, says smaller dealers like himself aren’t worried they may lose ownership of their most valued pieces. “It’s mostly a discussion at a higher level, among leading experts and museum heads,” he says. 

Like other skeptics, Jonard is worried about returning precious artifacts to places where they risk being looted or badly cared for. He claims many were originally crafted for purely practical purposes, and their original owners had few qualms about destroying or selling them when their use ran out. 

“Consider what might happen to French museums if all the art Napoleon plundered in Italy was sent home?” Jonard adds. “What will remain in the world’s museums if each country asks for its art back?”

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Penny Marshall, Actress and Director, Dies at Age 75

Penny Marshall, the trailblazing director of smash-hit big-screen comedies who first indelibly starred in the top-rated sitcom “Laverne & Shirley,” has died. She was 75.


Marshall’s publicist, Michelle Bega, said Tuesday that Marshall died in her Los Angeles home on Monday due to complications from diabetes.”Our family is heartbroken,” the Marshall family said in a statement.


In “Laverne & Shirley,” among television’s biggest hits for much of its seven-season 1976-1983 run, the nasal-voiced, Bronx-born Marshall starred as Laverne DeFazio alongside Cindy Williams as a pair of blue-collar roommates toiling on the assembly line of a Milwaukee brewery. A spinoff of “Happy Days,” the series was the rare network hit about working-class characters, and its self-empowering opening song (“Give her any chance, she’ll take it/ Give her any rule, she’ll break it”) foreshadowed Marshall’s own path as a filmmaker in Hollywood.


“Almost everyone had a theory about why ‘Laverne & Shirley’ took off,” Marshall wrote in her 2012 memoir “My Mother Was Nuts.” “I thought it was simply because Laverne and Shirley were poor and there were no poor people on TV, but there were plenty of them sitting at home and watching TV.”


Marshall directed several episodes of “Laverne & Shirley,” which her older brother, the late filmmaker-producer Garry Marshall, created. Those episodes helped launch Marshall as a filmmaker. When Whoopi Goldberg clashed with director Howard Zieff, she brought in Marshall to direct “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the 1986 comedy starring Goldberg.


“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” did reasonable business, but Marshall’s next film made her the first woman to direct a film that grossed more than $100 million. Her 1988 hit comedy “Big,” starring Tom Hanks, was about a 12-year-old boy who wakes up in the body of a 30-year-old New York City man. The film, which earned Hanks an Oscar nomination, grossed $151 million worldwide, or about $320 million accounting for inflation.


Marshall reteamed with Hanks for “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 comedy about the women’s professional baseball league begun during World War II, starring Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell. That, too, crossed $100 million, making $107.5 million domestically.


More than any other films, “A League of Their Own” and “Big” ensured Marshall’s stamp on the late ’80s, early ’90s. The piano dance scene in FAO Schwartz in “Big” became iconic. Hanks’ reprimand “There’s no crying in baseball,” from “A League of Their Own,” remains quoted on baseball diamonds everywhere.


“She had a heart of gold. Tough as nails,” recalled Danny DeVito, who starred in Marshall’s 1994 comedy “Renaissance Man.” “She could play round ball with the best of them.”


The pair of hits also made Marshall a beacon to other aspiring female filmmakers. Ava DuVernay, whose “A Wrinkle in Time” was the first $100 million-budgeted film directed by a woman of color, said Tuesday: “Thank you, Penny Marshall. For the trails you blazed. The laughs you gave. The hearts you warmed.”


In between “Big” and “A League of Their Own,” Marshall made the Oliver Sacks adaptation “Awakenings,” with Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. The medical drama, while not as successful at the box office, became only the second film directed by a woman nominated for best picture.


Carole Penny Marshall was born Oct. 15, 1942, in the Bronx. Her mother, Marjorie Marshall, was a dance teacher, and her father, Anthony, made industrial films. Their marriage was strained. Her mother’s caustic wit — a major source of inspiration for Marshall’s memoir — was formative. (One remembered line: “You were a miscarriage, but you were stubborn and held on.”)


“Those words are implanted in your soul, unfortunately. It’s just the way it was,” Marshall once recalled. “You had to learn at a certain age what sarcasm is, you know? When she says it about somebody else, you laughed, but when it was you, you didn’t laugh so much.”


During college at the University of New Mexico, Marshall met Michael Henry, whom she married briefly for two years and with whom she had a daughter, Tracy. Marshall would later wed the director Rob Reiner, a marriage that lasted from 1971 to 1981. Tracy, who took the name Reiner, became an actress; one of her first roles was a brief appearance in her mother’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” (Marshall is also survived by her older sister, Ronny, and three grandchildren.)


Marshall never again matched the run of “Big,” “Awakenings” and “A League of Their Own.” Her next film, the Army recruit comedy “Renaissance Man,” flopped. She directed “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996) with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. Her last film as director was 2001’s “Riding in Cars With Boys,” with Drew Barrymore. Marshall also helmed episodes of ABC’s “According to Jim” in 2009 and Showtime’s “United States of Tara” in 2010 and 2011, and directed the 2010 TV movie “Women Without Men.”

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Ukraine’s Poroshenko: World Bank Approves $750 Million Loan Guarantee

The World Bank has approved a $750 million loan guarantee for Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko said on Twitter on Tuesday, calling it proof of his nation’s “tangible progress on the reform path.”

The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other bodies support Ukraine with loan agreements conditional on Kiev passing reforms and tackling corruption. The IMF executive board was expected to meet later on Tuesday to approve a new stand-by loan deal for Ukraine worth $3.9 billion.

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Saudi 2019 Budget Boosts Spending to Spur Sluggish Economy

Saudi Arabia plans to increase state spending by 7 percent next year in an effort to spur economic growth that has been hurt by low oil prices, according to a 2019 state budget announced by King Salman on Tuesday. Spending is projected to rise to an all-time high of 1.106 trillion riyals ($295 billion), from an actual 1.030 trillion riyals this year.

“We are determined to go ahead with economic reform, achieving fiscal discipline, improving transparency and empowering the private sector,” the king said in a nationally televised speech.

The economy shrank last year and, although the government estimates it grew 2.3 percent in 2018, that is much slower than the boom years early this decade — and not enough to put much of a dent in a record jobless rate of 12.9 percent among Saudis.

“The budget focuses on boosting activity after years of fiscal consolidation and weak growth,” said Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.

Because of the ramp-up in spending, the 2019 budget also appears to mark a slowing of Saudi Arabia’s drive to cut a big state budget deficit caused by the oil price slump.

The deficit, which the government has pledged to eliminate by 2023, came in at 136 billion riyals this year, well below the 195 billion riyal gap originally projected for 2018.

That was partly because of higher oil export revenues; Brent oil has averaged about $73 a barrel so far this year, up from $54 in 2017. But Riyadh also boosted non-oil revenues with tough austerity steps such as the imposition of a 5 percent value-added-tax at the start of 2018.

Next year, the government projects only a minimal further shrinking of the deficit to 131 billion riyals. Malik said her assumptions for Saudi gross domestic product and oil revenue suggested the deficit might actually widen back in 2019, to over 7 percent of GDP from near 4 percent.

Saudi Arabia does not disclose the oil price assumptions on which its planning is based, but Malik and some other private economists estimated the 2019 budget implied Brent at $70-71 per barrel with oil production at 10.2 million barrels per day.

Jean-Paul Pigat, head of research at Lighthouse Research in Dubai, said the budget’s increase in spending was lower than he had expected.

“Government spending is what ultimately drives growth in Saudi, and the wider region, and without stronger stimulus, it is difficult to see where the spark for stronger demand will come from,” he said.

However, Pigat added that more stimulus might come in the form of off-budget spending by the Public Investment Fund, the kingdom’s main sovereign wealth fund, which is embarking on multi-billion-dollar projects to develop Saudi Arabia’s tourism, entertainment and real estate industries.

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EU Urges Kosovo to Drop Tariffs as Political Tensions Mount

The European Union’s top diplomat called Tuesday on Kosovo to lift tariffs on goods from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina as tensions rise between the former Serbian territory, and the EU and NATO.

Kosovo last month slapped a 100-percent tax on Serbian imports, apparently in retaliation after its bid to join the international police organization, Interpol, failed amid intense Serb lobbying.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that “it is in the interest of Kosovo to immediately revoke this decision.” She urged Pristina to settle its grievances through dialogue.

Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 2008 and unilaterally declared independence. Belgrade doesn’t recognize the move, nor do a small group of EU states, like Spain for example that fear that recognition might fuel breakaway tendencies in their own countries.

Mogherini’s appeal came as Kosovo’s prime minister accused her of mishandling EU-backed talks on normalizing ties with Serbia.

Ramush Haradinaj said the so-called Pristina-Belgrade dialogue led by Mogherini “has not given its expected products.”

He said that while Serbia is taking major steps toward the EU integration, Kosovo residents remain “in a ghetto,” not enjoying visa-free travel to EU countries even though it claims to have fulfilled the requirements.

A news conference planned between Mogherini and Haradinaj in Brussels on Monday was cancelled without reason. Mogherini said Tuesday it was because “we didn’t have any news to give,” and she noted that Haradinaj didn’t raise her handling of the talks with her.

Haradinaj has said his government will only lift the tariffs once Serbia recognizes Kosovo’s independence.

Mogherini, speaking alongside Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, expressed concerned about a return to conflict and warned that “the alternative to dialogue is very dangerous.”

NATO ambassadors, meanwhile, were weighing Tuesday Kosovo’s decision to transform its security force into an army.

Belgrade has warned that creating an army in a place it considers Serbian territory could result in an armed intervention.

But Kosovo’s parliament on Friday overwhelmingly approved the army’s formation in what President Hashim Thaci described as “an irreversible act.”

NATO and the EU have criticized the move, and NATO could reduce cooperation with Kosovo security services, although it seems unlikely to cut the number of troops in its own security force there, KFOR.

“There is a long-standing agreement that NATO will have to re-examine our level of engagement with the Kosovo Security Force, should its mandate evolve,” spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in a statement.

She underlined that NATO’s KFOR will continue “to ensure a safe and secure environment.”

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Росія до 2 січня має надати ЄСПЛ медичні документи про стан українця Гриба – юрист

Європейський суд з прав людини вимагає від Москви надання медичних документів щодо актуального стану здоров’я громадянина України Павла Гриба, який перебуває під судом у Росії. Про це ввечері 18 грудня повідомила правозахисниця, юрист Євгенія Закревська.

«ЄСПЛ сьогодні відреагував на наше клопотання за правилом 39 Конвенції про вжиття термінових заходів щодо забезпечення необхідної медичної допомоги Павлу Грибу. Суд зажадав у РФ надати медичні документи щодо поточного стану здоров’я заявника, щодо лікування, яке було призначене йому під час тримання під вартою. Термін – до 2.01.2019 року», – ідеться в повідомленні.

У російському Ростові-на-Дону 12 грудня Північно-Кавказький окружний військовий суд відклав розгляд справи обвинуваченого в підготовці теракту українського політв’язня Павла Гриба через різке погіршення його здоров’я.

«У Павла сильний біль в животі, блювання, підвищена температура тіла», – писав того дня батько в’язня Ігор Гриб. За його словами, лікарі «швидкої» допомоги надати не змогли. Судове засідання перенесли на 21 грудня.

15 листопада Павло Гриб відмовився свідчити в Північнокавказькому окружному військовому суді російського Ростова-на-Дону. Його обвинувачують у тероризмі, але він не визнає провину.

Гриб зник у серпні 2017 року в білоруському Гомелі, пізніше його знайшли в СІЗО у російському Краснодарі.

За словами родичів, у Павла Гриба портальна гіпертензія – синдром підвищеного тиску в системі ворітної вени, який супроводжується збільшенням селезінки, варикозним розширенням вен стравоходу й шлунка, асцитом, печінковою недостатністю.

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EU Officials, Firms Meet African Leaders to Talk Investment

European officials and companies met with African leaders in Vienna Tuesday for talks intended as a springboard to increase investment in Africa.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said investments of around 1 billion euros ($1.13 billion) could materialize as a result of guarantees and other arrangements presented at the meeting.

Those plans call for 75 million euros of EU funds to be used to leverage up to 750 million euros of investments in businesses in Africa, benefiting those who usually struggle to get affordable loans.

Separately, a fund worth 45 million euros is meant to help smallholder farmers access funding and attract more than 200 million euros in investments. Programs also are planned to support solar power plants in Morocco and cleaning up a drain in Egypt’s Nile delta.

Kurz told Austrian broadcaster ORF ahead of the meeting he hopes this is a “good start signal for more European investment in Africa so that the African continent, when it comes to investment, isn’t just conceded to the Chinese.”

African Union Chairman Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president, and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi were among the leaders on hand for the forum.

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Уряд схвалив нову Морську доктрину на період до 2035 року – міністр

Кабінет міністрів України схвалив нову редакцію Морською доктрини на період до 2035 року, повідомив міністр інфраструктури Володимир Омелян.

На його думку, нова доктрина «має посилити позиції України в Азовському і Чорному морях, Керченській протоці».

«Оновлена Морська доктрина України – це комплексний стратегічний документ, який визначає пріоритети послідовної морської політики України на довгострокову перспективу», – зазначив Омелян.

Перша редакція Морської доктрини до 2035 року була затверджена Кабінетом міністрів у 2009-м. Нова редакція документа наразі не оприлюднена.

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