Former Barclays traders jailed over Euribor rate-rigging

Two traders have been jailed after being convicted of conspiring to rig the Euribor global interest rate.

Colin Bermingham, 62, and Carlo Palombo, 40, both former Barclays traders, were convicted of conspiracy to defraud.

Mr Bermingham received a five year jail term, while Mr Palombo was jailed for four years.

Another trader, Sisse Bohart, has been acquitted.

The sentences bring to an end the biggest trial so far for rigging interest rates – in this case the Euribor benchmark used to fix the interest rates of millions of euro-denominated loans.

Lisa Osofsky, director of the Serious Fraud Office, said: “These men deliberately undermined the integrity of the financial system to line their pockets and advance the interests of their employers.

“We are committed to tracking down and bringing to justice those who defraud others and abuse the system.”

Euribor is a key euro benchmark borrowing rate, underpinning about $180tn of financial products, and the accuracy of the rate is important to maintaining trust in the financial system.

Every day, one trader at each bank would estimate the interest rate he or she thought the bank would have to pay to borrow cash from other banks, based on the rates banks were paying that morning.

The estimates would be submitted to the European Banking Federation (EBF), based on current market transactions. Those submissions would then be averaged and a rate would be published.

In the 1990s and 2000s, traders routinely requested that the submissions be tweaked up or down by tiny amounts to suit their banks’ commercial interests. Banks typically had trading positions or investments that would benefit from higher or lower submissions.

The traders’ defence has been that this was normal commercial practice. The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) says it is corrupt.

During the sentencing hearing, Judge Michael Gledhill echoed controversial remarks by Mr Justice Cooke, who presided over the first interest rate rigging trial in 2015 of former UBS trader Tom Hayes, saying he wanted “a message sent out to the world of banking”.

“Those convicted of manipulating interest rates will face substantial custodial sentences,” he said.

Mr Hayes was sentenced to 14 years in prison, which was reduced on appeal to 11 and a half years.

Judge Gledhill said it was difficult to understand why Mr Bermingham had become involved in conspiracy, because there was no personal gain to him from accepting requests from traders to put in higher or lower submissions.

But, he added: “Part of the answer lies in a desire to help Barclays prosper, and perhaps it is something to do with the desire to be respected by others. Whatever the reasons, you have been convicted of being knowingly and dishonestly involved in this conspiracy.”

A second trial

Mr Bermingham, Mr Palombo and Mr Bohart were tried a second time by the SFO, after a jury failed to reach a majority verdict in an earlier trial in 2017.

Ahead of that trial, Christian Bittar, a former Deutsche Bank trader, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud.

Another former Barclays trader, Philippe Moryoussef, attended earlier hearings but decided not to attend the trial, with his lawyer saying he could not be confident of a fair trial.

Former Barclays trader Philippe Moryoussef
Former Barclays trader Philippe Moryoussef, centre, was sentenced to eight years in jail in absentia

He was convicted in his absence and is now a fugitive from British justice.

Both Mr Palombo and Mr Bermingham were convicted by majority verdicts, with two jurors against a guilty verdict in both cases.

Carlo Palombo’s lawyer John Hartley said Mr Palombo and his family were devastated by the outcome.

“Mr Palombo started at Barclays as a junior trader and was taught by his management from an early stage about making requests of the submission desk,” said Mr Hartley in a statement.

“He gave evidence during the trial that this was an ordinary course of business at the bank and there was never an issue of any of his actions being dishonest at that time and that he had received no training on Euribor submissions. No senior members of management were on trial.”

In BBC Panorama programme “The Big Bank Fix” in 2017, the BBC revealed a secret recording which implicated the Bank of England in a practice called “lowballing”.

Lowballing occurred during the 2008 financial crisis, when banks artificially lowered their estimates for Libor (the London Interbank Offered Rate) – the dollar and sterling equivalent of Euribor.

In a statement to the BBC, the Bank of England said Libor was unregulated at the time.

At the 2016 trials, the SFO said it was investigating lowballing. However, after years of investigation, no prosecution has been mounted.

Libor submissions defence

Mr Hayes’s case is now with the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) amid growing doubts about the safety of his conviction. The evidence against him also consisted of “trader requests” to put in higher or lower libor submissions.

Former UBS trader Tom Hayes
Former UBS trader Tom Hayes was jailed in 2015 for allegely rigging Libor

His defence in 2015 was that there were a range of potential submissions, based on the slightly differing interest rates banks were paying to borrow money on any given morning.

Requests to raise or lower it within that range were legitimate, his lawyers argued. Prosecutors dismissed the notion of a range.

However, in 2017, at the trial of Barclays traders for rigging rates, John Ewan, the former Libor manager at the British Bankers Association, agreed requests for higher or lower submissions within a range could be acceptable. The two defendants in that trial, Ryan Reich and Stelios Contogoulas, were acquitted.

The trial of Palombo and Bermingham heard similar evidence from Helmut Konrad, a retired banker who helped set up Euribor in 1999, who told the court in 2018 it was “okay” for banks to submit a rate from a number of options that were equally good, even if one rate would be more profitable for the bank.

At this year’s trial, he told the court “as long as we’re talking about the range of permissible rates, it’s fine”.

Mr Hartley said Mr Palombo was considering an appeal.

Turkey local elections: Setback for Erdogan in big cities

The party of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lost control of the capital, Ankara, in local elections, in a blow to his 16-year rule.

The main opposition is also slightly ahead in the contest for mayor of Istanbul, figures published by the state-run Anadolu news agency suggest.

But the president’s AKP party is challenging the result in both cities.

Municipal elections were held across the nation on Sunday and an AKP-led alliance won more than 51% of the vote.

The elections, considered a verdict on Mr Erdogan’s rule, have been taking place during an economic downturn.

The currency, the lira, has been losing value recently and the economy went into recession in the last three months of 2018.

What has the ruling party been saying?

The AKP – or Justice and Development Party – alleges “invalid votes and irregularities in most of the 12,158 polling stations in Ankara”.

Its general secretary, Fatih Sahin, said on Twitter: “We will use our legal rights to the fullest, and we will not allow the will of our citizens to be altered in Ankara.”

Erdogan: “We will appeal wherever needed”

The AKP says it will also challenge the result in Istanbul – the largest city – and the eastern province of Igdir.

Commenting on the results in a speech on Sunday, Mr Erdogan looked ahead to national elections in 2023: “We have a long period ahead where we will carry out economic reforms without compromising on the rules of the free-market economy.

“If there are any shortcomings, it is our duty to correct them,” he said.

What are the results?

More than 57 million people in the country were registered to vote for mayors and councillors. Turnout was high at just under 85%.

The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Mansur Yavas won in Ankara, officials said. With almost all votes counted, he was on nearly 51% and the AKP’s Mehmet Ozhaseki had won the support of just over 47%.

Both CHP and the AKP claim victory in Istanbul, which has been in the hands of parties linked to Mr Erdogan since 1994, when he was elected the city’s mayor.

The election commission said the CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu was leading there by less than 0.5%, but that the results of more than 80 ballot boxes were being challenged. Results carried by Anadolu put the margin even narrower, at less than 0.25%.

Ekrem Imamoglu
The CHP’s mayoral candidate for Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu has claimed victory by 28,000 votes

The AKP had been saying its candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, was ahead by 4,000 votes. He later conceded his opponent had a narrow lead, only for the AKP to again claim victory.

The third largest city, Izmir, went to the CHP.

“The people have voted in favour of democracy. They have chosen democracy,” CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.

Presentational grey line

Image of invincibility broken

Analysis by Mr Ben Rory, BBC Turkey correspondent

Electoral figures show Istanbul falling to the opposition by a whisker, although the ruling party has challenged the result and refused to concede. Ekrem Imamoglu, who’s already changed his Twitter profile to “mayor of Istanbul”, has vowed to serve all sides – those who voted for and against him – without discrimination.

President Erdogan’s setbacks deepened elsewhere, losing the capital, Ankara, and several other cities as his conservative voters punished him for an economic crisis.

Local elections are important here. Parties build their base at grassroots level; Mr Erdogan himself gained power after being mayor of Istanbul.

He turned this poll into, in effect, a referendum on himself. Now his image of invincibility has been broken and an opposition long seen as hopelessly divided has got a new lease of life. Swathes of Turkey still adore Mr Erdogan, but the half of the country that detests its polarising president are starting to believe he’s beatable.

Presentational grey line

How was the campaign?

This was the first municipal vote since Mr Erdogan assumed sweeping executive powers through last year’s presidential election.

The AKP, with its roots in political Islam, has won every election since coming to power in 2002.

Mr Erdogan, whose two-month campaign included 100 rallies, said the poll was about the “survival” of the country and his party.

AKP supporters celebrate in Istanbul
AKP supporters also celebrated in Istanbul – but Mr Erdogan later hinted that the party may have lost control there

With most media either pro-government or controlled by Mr Erdogan’s supporters, critics believe opposition parties campaigned at a disadvantage. Mr Erdogan’s rallies dominated TV coverage.

The opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the elections were unfair and refused to put forward candidates in several cities.

Some of its leaders have been jailed on terrorism charges, accusations they reject.

China to curb all types of fentanyl, following US demands

China says it will crack down on all types of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, following a plea from the US.

All fentanyl-related substances will be added to China’s list of controlled narcotic drugs from 1 May, officials said.

It follows a pledge Beijing made during US-China trade talks in December.

The powerful painkiller, much of it believed to be made in China, is said to be driving a huge rise in drug addiction in the US.

The number of deaths from painkillers such as fentanyl led to President Donald Trump declaring a national emergency in 2017.

On America’s trail of destruction

China’s production of the drug has long been a source of tension between the two countries.

“The US is concerned about all variants [of fentanyl] and it has all been resolved,” Liu Yuejin, deputy director of China’s narcotics control commission, told a news conference.

Mr Liu said the claim that China was the main source of fentanyl “lacked evidence”, and instead blamed a history of abuse of prescription medicine in the US for fuelling demand.

“We believe that the United States itself is the main factor in the abuse of fentanyl there,” he said.

“Some people link drug consumption with freedom, individuality, and liberation. If the US really wants to resolve the fentanyl substance problem they have more work to do domestically.”

Vancouver’s unusual approach offers opioid users injection sites, antidotes and even heroin on prescription

Fentanyl itself is already on China’s list of controlled drugs. Expanding the list to all fentanyl-related substances is aimed at stopping smugglers from changing formulas to circumvent the law.

Fentanyl is estimated to be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and is usually only approved in the US for severe pain arising in cases like treatment for cancer.

Liu Yuejin addresses a news conference on fentanyl-related substances control, in Beijing, China April, 1, 2019
Liu Yuejin blamed US culture for fuelling demand for fentanyl

The US says the synthetic drug is being sold on the internet and sent by post from China, fuelling the opioid crisis.

US authorities list all fentanyl-related products in the most dangerous class of drugs.

In 2017, the US announced the first ever indictments against two Chinese individuals for conspiracy “to distribute large quantities” of fentanyl as well as other opioids.

The issue over fentanyl figured during a trade war between China and the US that erupted last year.

China’s pledge to control the drug came during a post-G20 summit between the two countries in Buenos Aires in December.

Brexit: MPs debate next steps ahead of indicative vote

MPs are debating the possible next steps for Brexit as they try to break the deadlock in Parliament.

Four options have been chosen by the Speaker to be voted on later, including a customs union and a referendum.

Labour MPs are being urged to back a plan to keep the UK in a Norway-style relationship with the EU.

Under the Common Market 2.0 proposal, the UK would leave the EU, but retain freedom of movement and make contributions to the EU budget.

Conservative MPs are being given a free vote on the motions – meaning they will not be told by party bosses which way to go – but the cabinet has been told to abstain.

During the debate, 11 climate change activists staged a protest in the public gallery, taking their clothes off to reveal slogans painted on their bodies.

Police were called to remove them from the viewing platform.

The Common Market 2.0 motion – put forward by Tory MP Nick Boles – may also be backed by the SNP.

But the PM’s spokesman said ending free movement was a “very important factor” for the public when voting for Brexit, so they would oppose it.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, speaking to the BBC’s World at One programme, refused to say whether Labour’s position on free movement had changed.

When asked if she was compromising on freedom of movement, she said “we are trying to pull the House of Commons together”.

None of today’s votes on the proposals are legally binding, meaning it will be up to the government if they act on the results.

Theresa May tried to get MPs to back the withdrawal agreement element of her deal on Friday, but lost by 58 votes – having already failed twice to get support for her overall deal in Parliament.

She now has until 12 April to either seek a longer extension to the deadline or decide to leave the EU without a deal.

The cabinet is now split over whether to move to a softer deal that could mean including a customs union in her plan.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC joining a customs union would be a “betrayal of Brexit”.

How will the rest of the day unfold?

The Commons started with MPs debating and voting on a business motion that laid out plans for the votes later and set aside time for any next steps on Wednesday.

It was approved by 322 votes to 277.

The Speaker John Bercow then decided which motions to take forward for MPs to vote on tonight.

He picked four of the eight put forward:

  • Motion C: Committing the government to negotiating “a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU” as part of any Brexit deal – proposed by Tory former chancellor Ken Clarke
  • Motion D: Referred to as Common Market 2.0, this option would mean joining the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area – proposed by Tory MP Nick Boles
  • Motion E: This is for a confirmatory referendum, giving the public a vote to approve any Brexit deal passed by Parliament before it can be implemented – proposed by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson
  • Motion G: The motion aims to prevent the UK leaving without a deal, including a vote on whether to revoke Article 50 – stopping Brexit – if the EU does not agree to an extension – proposed by the SNP’s Joanna Cherry

He did not choose motions calling for a unilateral exit to the backstop, to leave on 12 April without a deal, to hold a referendum in the case of no-deal or to rejoin the European Free Trade Association.

MPs are now debating the proposals until 20:00 BST, after which – as with the indicative votes last week – MPs will be given a piece of paper listing all the options and tick “yes” or “no” on as many as they want.

The House will be suspended for 30 minutes to allow the votes to take place. It took two hours for the votes to be counted before, so the result could be around 22:00 BST.

Will any of the options get a majority?

When MPs voted on proposals last week, all eight failed to win a majority in the Commons.

However, the plan for a customs union – allowing UK businesses to move goods around the EU without tariffs, but stopping the UK striking independent trade deals – and a confirmatory referendum came the closest.

Brexit: MPs debate next steps ahead of indicative vote
Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics.

A number of cabinet ministers have spoken out against the customs union proposal.

Mr Fox said that if the UK pursued it, the country would have to follow rules set by the EU, adding: “It’s time we went back to a proper Brexit.”

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said a customs union would “compromise” pledges the party made in their 2017 manifesto, while Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said ministers were “determined” to avoid that happening.

Meanwhile, Tory MP Huw Merriman has written to around 200 of his colleagues who have voted in favour of Mrs May’s deal, appealing for them to back the confirmatory referendum motion to prevent the customs union option succeeding.

He said: “It is the only option which keeps the [PM’s] deal alive and is not contingent on more EU negotiations.”

Digital Minister Margot James also told BBC Two’s Politics Live that she is thinking about changing her mind to back a confirmatory referendum.

Labour’s Dame Margaret Beckett, who proposed the previous motion for a confirmatory public vote, said she was happy to vote for motions like a customs union, so it could attract scrutiny.

“But they’re unlikely to command a stable majority in Parliament unless they are attached to much longer extension that allows enough time for them to be properly scrutinised and negotiated – while not precluding a new public vote,” she said.

What happens next?

  • Wednesday 3 April: Potentially another round of so-called “indicative votes”
  • Wednesday 10 April: Emergency summit of EU leaders to consider any UK request for further extension
  • Friday 12 April: Brexit day, if UK does not seek/EU does not grant further delay
  • 23-26 May: European Parliamentary elections

Japan reveals name of new imperial era will be ‘Reiwa’

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga unveils the new era name "Reiwa" at a press conference
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga unveils the new era name “Reiwa” at a press conference

Japan has announced that the name of its new imperial era, set to begin on 1 May, will be “Reiwa” – signifying order and harmony.

The country’s current era, Heisei, will end in a month with Emperor Akihito’s historic abdication.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced the highly anticipated name by holding up a board with the characters handwritten on it.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has addressed the nation to explain its meaning.

Each Japanese emperor’s reign, or “gengo”, is given a name which is then used alongside the Western calendar to mark the years.

What does Reiwa mean?

The term for the new era is made up of the two characters Rei and Wa, meaning “order”, and “peace” or “harmony”.

It is for the first time taken from an old anthology of Japanese poems, the Manyoshu, instead of a Chinese one, Mr Abe said.

The Manyoshu symbolises Japan’s “profound public culture and long tradition”, he said.

“Our nation is facing up to a big turning point, but there are lots of Japanese values that shouldn’t fade away,” Mr Abe told reporters.

There have been only four eras in Japan’s modern history. Emperor Akihito’s current era, Heisei, which means “achieving peace”, was preceded by the Showa era (1926-1989), which can be translated as “enlightened harmony”.

Before that, the Taisho era (1912-1926) meant “great righteousness”, while the Meiji gengo (1868-1912) meant “enlightened rule” in English.

Crown Prince Naruhito
Crown Prince Naruhito will become emperor on 1 May, 2019

How significant is an imperial era?

Each gengo’s name aims to set the tone for the upcoming decades, and remains significant to most Japanese in their daily life.

It appears on coins, newspapers, driving licences and official paperwork.

Monday’s unveiling of the era name follows weeks of speculation and top-secret cabinet discussions and the winning term was eventually chosen by cabinet from a selection drawn up by a panel of scholars and experts.

Although still widely used, the gengo calendar is declining in popularity as Japan opens up to global influence.

Since both calendars use Western months, many people simply use them alongside each other.

Japan's Emperor Akihito (L) and Empress Michiko wave to Luxembourg's Grand Duke Henri after their meeting and welcoming ceremony for the grand duke at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on 27 November 2017.
Emperor Akihito, seen here with Empress Michiko, has said his age has made it difficult to fulfil duties

Why will the current emperor abdicate?

Japan’s government confirmed in December 2017 that the current emperor, 85-year old Akihito, would abdicate in April 2019 due to old age and hand the throne to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito.

He will be the first Japanese emperor to do so in more than two centuries.

Usually, a new era is revealed only when one emperor has died and his successor has taken the throne. Things are different this time round, however, due to the abdication.

The announcement was made one month early so government offices and companies can update computer software and prepare for the transition before it comes into effect next month.

Kim Jong-nam murder: Vietnamese woman pleads guilty to lesser charge

Doan Thi Huong would have faced the death penalty if convicted of murder
Doan Thi Huong would have faced the death penalty if convicted of murder

A Vietnamese woman accused of killing Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader, has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of causing hurt by potentially deadly means.

A Malaysian court sentenced Doan Thi Huong to three years and four months in jail, starting from her arrest in February 2017.

However, under Malaysian law she could be freed by May, her lawyer said.

Ms Huong would have faced the death penalty if found guilty of the murder.

Mr Kim, the estranged half-brother of Kim Jong-un, was assassinated at Kuala Lumpur Airport in 2017 in broad daylight, with the toxic nerve agent VX.

The development effectively means no-one has been held accountable for Mr Kim’s death.

What happens now?

“In the first week of May, she will go home,” Ms Huong’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik told reporters at the Shah Alam court, outside Malaysia’s capital.

Her step-mother Nguyen Thi Vy told BBC Vietnamese the family was “very happy”.

“We have felt so thankful for all the support from the government, lawyers and communities,” she said.

The judge’s decision comes after Ms Huong’s Indonesian co-defendant Siti Aisyah unexpectedly walked free last month, after intervention from Malaysia’s Attorney General.

Ms Huong’s hopes of a similar outcome were initially dashed on 14 March, when authorities rejected her request for the murder charge to be dropped and said her trial would go ahead.

She cried in the courtroom, and told reporters: “Only God knows that we did not commit the murder. I want my family to pray for me.”

Ms Huong at the Shah Alam court earlier in March
On 14 March, Ms Huong’s lawyer said she had been unable to sleep since the unexpected release of her co-defendent, Siti Aisyah

Both women have always insisted they were innocent. They say they were tricked into carrying out the killing – which involved smearing a lethal nerve agent on the victim’s face – and believed they were part of a reality TV prank.

The BBC’s South East Asia correspondent Johnson michael says Monday’s verdict offers Malaysia a face-saving way out of an embarrassing murder trial, but will also be viewed by many as justice for the last remaining defendant.

However, it means neither defendant was able to testify and give details of how they were brought into the plot, or who recruited them.

How was the murder carried out?

Kim Jong-nam had been waiting to board a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Macau on 13 February 2017, when two women approached him in the departure area.

CCTV footage showed one of them placing her hands over his face, then both women leaving the scene.

Mr Kim died on the way to hospital from what was later found to be exposure to VX, one of the most toxic of all known chemical agents.

North Korea has fiercely denied any involvement in the killing, but four men – believed to be North Koreans who fled Malaysia on the day of the murder – have also been charged in the case.

They remain at large despite an Interpol “red notice”, equivalent to an international arrest warrant.

Kim Jong-nam murder: Vietnamese woman pleads guilty to lesser charge
While in prison, Siti Aisyah wondered: “Is this the end of my life?”

Turkey local elections: Setback for Erdogan as his party loses capital

Opposition CHP supporters celebrated in Istanbul
Opposition CHP supporters celebrated in Istanbul

The party of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lost control of the capital, Ankara, in local elections in what is being seen as a setback to his 16 years in power.

The opposition is also ahead in the contest for mayor of the largest city, Istanbul, the election commission says.

Nationally, the president’s AKP-led alliance has won more than 51% of the vote in the municipal elections.

“If there are any shortcomings, it is our duty to correct them,” he said.

Mr Erdogan had previously said the poll was about the “survival” of the country and his party.

Sunday’s election came amid an economic downturn and was widely seen as a referendum on his leadership.

More than 57 million people in the country were registered to vote for mayors and councillors.

What are the results?

The secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Mansur Yavas won in Ankara.

In Istanbul, the election commission said the CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu was leading by only 28,000 votes, but added that the results of more than 80 ballot boxes were being challenged.

Both CHP and Mr Erdogan’s AKP – or Justice and Development Party – had been claiming victory in the city, previously governed by the AKP.

Erdogan addresses supporters in Ankara
Mr Erdogan has vowed to make up for “shortcomings”

The AKP had been saying its candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, was ahead by 4,000 votes. Ruling party officials said they would challenge thousands of ballots in Istanbul and Ankara.

The CHP also said it had held Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city.

What has the reaction been?

“The people have voted in favour of democracy. They have chosen democracy,” CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.

Ekrem Imamoglu
The CHP’s mayoral candidate for Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu has claimed victory by 28,000 votes

Speaking on Sunday as the first results emerged, Mr Erdogan vowed to focus his leadership on the Turkish economy ahead of national elections scheduled to take place in 2023.

Prominent journalist Rusen Cakir said the vote was “as historic as that of 1994”, referring to the year Mr Erdogan was elected mayor of Istanbul.

“It is a declaration that a page that was opened 25 years ago is being turned,” he said.

Presentational grey line

‘Agonising blow’

Analysis by Mr Ben Rory, BBC Turkey Correspondent

President Erdogan had painted this election as a matter of survival. He’s now been dealt an agonising blow.

For the first time in a quarter of a century, his party has lost Turkey’s capital Ankara.

And in the economic powerhouse of Istanbul, there’s a hair’s breadth between the governing AK Party and the opposition.

As the official tally showed fewer than 3,000 votes between them in this city of 18 million, both said they’d won.

But then the count stopped, with more than 1% of ballot boxes still unopened: a tactic, says the opposition, to steal victory.

This could be a watershed moment for Turkey’s powerful, polarising president: when an opposition long seen as moribund finally feels he’s beatable.

Presentational grey line

How was the campaign?

This was the first municipal vote since Mr Erdogan assumed sweeping executive powers through last year’s presidential election.

The AKP have won every election since coming to power in 2002.

AKP supporters celebrate in Istanbul
AKP supporters also celebrated in Istanbul – but Mr Erdogan later hinted that the party may have lost control there

With most media either pro-government or controlled by Mr Erdogan’s supporters, critics believe opposition parties campaigned at a disadvantage.

The opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the elections were unfair and refused to put forward candidates in several cities.

Some of its leaders have been jailed on terrorism charges, accusations they reject.

Mr Erdogan’s rallies have dominated TV coverage. At one on Saturday, the president sought to reassure voters and the party’s usually conservative supporters that everything was under control.

“I am the boss of the economy right now as president of this country,” he said, also blaming the West and particularly the US for its financial turbulence.

The president was criticised for repeatedly showing footage from the recent terror attack in New Zealand, in which a self-declared white supremacist live-streamed himself killing 50 people at two Christchurch mosques.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden has denied allegations of misconduct ahead of his widely-expected announcement of a presidential run.

Joe Biden served as Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years

Joe Biden denies Lisa Flores’s misconduct allegations

Lucy Flores, a former Nevada Assembly member, says Mr Biden kissed her on the back of her head at a campaign event.

“I had never experienced anything so blatantly inappropriate,” she wrote.

Mr Biden said he had shown “expressions of affection” to people over the years, adding “not once – never – did I believe I acted inappropriately”.

“If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully,” he said.

Serving as Barack Obama’s vice-president for eight years and in the US Senate for nearly four decades, Mr Biden is seen as a possible frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination even though he has not announced his candidacy.

What are the allegations?

The allegations first appeared on Friday in an article Ms Flores wrote for The Cut magazine.

Ms Flores was running as the Democratic candidate for Nevada’s lieutenant governor in 2014 when the then-vice president flew in to support her bid.

As she prepared to go on stage, Ms Flores say Mr Biden placed two hands on her shoulders from behind.

“I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified,” she wrote. “He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening.”

Lucy Flores speaking at a 2014 Nevada campaign event with Joe Biden behind her
Lucy Flores alleges Mr Biden kissed her on the back of the head ahead of a 2014 campaign event

How did Mr Biden respond?

Mr Biden’s spokesman Bill Russo initially said neither the vice-president nor his staff had any idea that “Ms Flores had been at any time uncomfortable, nor do they recall what she describes”.

But on Sunday Mr Biden issued a statement himself, and promised to “pay attention” to Ms Flores – while reiterating he did not remember the incident.

“In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once – never – did I believe I acted inappropriately,” it read.

“But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will,” he added.

Speaking in a CNN interview on Sunday, Ms Flores said Mr Biden’s statement was “certainly better” than his spokesman’s initial response, but called his behaviour “completely inappropriate” and something to think about of a person “who is considering running for president”.

What’s been the reaction?

A number of candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have backed Ms Flores.

“I think what this speaks to is the need to fundamentally change the culture of this country,” Senator Bernie Sanders told Face the Nation on CBS, saying he had no reason not to believe Ms Flores.

She previously campaign for Mr Sanders in his 2016 nomination run.

Senator Elizabeth Warren said Mr Biden “needs to give an answer”, and Senator Amy Klobuchar said that in politics “people raise issues and they have to address them”.

Lucy Flores campaigning for Bernie Sanders at a Nevada event in 2016
Lucy Flores campaigned for Bernie Sanders in 2016

But many supporters have leapt to Mr Biden’s defence.

Cynthia Hogan, a former aide to the vice-president, told the New York Times that Mr Biden “treated us with respect and insisted that others do the same”.

And Stephanie Carter, the wife of former defence secretary Ashton Carter, defended her “close friend” in a blog post.

A photo of Mr Biden holding her shoulders during her husband’s swearing-in ceremony drew questions at the time and afterwards.

But in a blog post, Ms Carter wrote that the vice-president “could sense I was uncharacteristically nervous” at the event “and quickly gave me a hug”, she wrote.

“But a still shot taken from a video… came to be the lasting image of that day.”