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Indian-Origin Trio arrested for allegedly selling seats to Indian Students to Health Science Courses at University in South Africa

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Johannesburg, May 16, 2017: Three Indian-origin persons were arrested here by police for allegedly selling seats to Indian students to study medicine and other health science courses at a university in South Africa.

Accused Varsha (44) and Hiteshkumar Bhatt (46) are the owners of Durban’s “Little Gujarat” restaurant while Preshni Hiramun (55) is a former school teacher.

The trio is accused of working as agents in conspiring together with a syndicate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in South Africa to illegally enrol students in the health science faculty and school of medicine, news portal Independent online reported on Monday.

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The accused chatted to interested parents, negotiated bribes and liaised with university staff who helped get the parents’ children enrolled, according to the report.

This was done even though the students involved did not meet the minimum requirements for the courses. The three suspects allegedly charged R250,000 ($19,000) for admission to the health sciences faculty.

They charged R500,000 ($38,000) for a place in medicine. The reports also said that the trio was involved in the sale of examination question and answer papers for an additional R30,000 ($2,278).

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The trio were charged with fraud and contravention of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act and were later granted R40,000 ($3,000) bail each in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

Their arrest came after a sting operation was conducted by a weekly newspaper on Sunday.

The elite Hawks Organised Crime Unit raided the homes and businesses of the three accused and arrested them last week. Their passports were confiscated and they have been asked to report to the Durban North Police station once a week.

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Police seized two Mercedes-Benz cars, laptops, hard-drives and flash drives from the Bhatts. At Hiramun’s home in Somerset Park, laptops were found hidden in a washing machine, the report said.

Documents pertaining to the syndicate were also seized, according to the report. The trio was also asked to refrain from contacting any witnesses or staff at UKZN.

Hawks investigator Mandla Mkhwanazi said more arrests were on the cards and that the investigation was at a sensitive stage hence too much information could not be divulged.

The accused will appear in court again in August for the state to prepare its investigation. (IANS)

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Chocolate Ingredient Cacao Dates Back To 5,400 yrs Ago

A growing interest in cacao flavors, indicates a return to a time when chocolate wasn't just an ingredient buried in a candy bar.

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A worker holds dried cacao seeds at a plantation in Cano Rico, Venezuela. VOA

New research strengthens the case that people used the chocolate ingredient cacao in South America 5,400 years ago, underscoring the seed’s radical transformation into today’s Twix bars and M&M candies.

Tests indicate traces of cacao on artifacts from an archaeological site in Ecuador, according to a study published Monday. That’s about 1,500 years older than cacao’s known domestication in Central America.

“It’s the earliest site now with domesticated cacao,” said Cameron McNeil of Lehman College in New York, who was not involved in the research.

The ancient South American civilization likely didn’t use cacao to make chocolate since there’s no established history of indigenous populations in the region using it that way, researchers led by the University of British Columbia in Canada said.

Cacao,chocolate
-A cacao pod hangs from a tree at the Agropampatar chocolate farm co-op in El Clavo, Venezuela. VOA

But the tests indicate the civilization used the cacao seed, not just the fruity pulp. The seeds are the part of the cacao pod used to make chocolate.

Indigenous populations in the upper Amazon region today use cacao for fermented drinks and juices, and it’s probably how it was used thousands of years ago as well, researchers said.

Scientists mostly agree that cacao was first domesticated in South America instead of Central America as previously believed. The study in Nature Ecology & Evolution provides fresh evidence.

Three types of tests were conducted using artifacts from the Santa Ana-La Florida site in Ecuador. One tested for the presence of theobromine, a key compound in cacao; another tested for preserved particles that help archeologists identify ancient plant use; a third used DNA testing to identify cacao.

Chocolate
A light almond cream candy carries the initials for Russell Stover Candies in Kansas City, Kansas. VOA

Residue from one ceramic artifact estimated to be 5,310 to 5,440 years old tested positive for cacao by all three methods. Others tested positive for cacao traces as well, but were not as old.

How cacao’s use spread between South America and Central America is not clear. But by the time Spanish explorers arrived in Central America in the late 1400s, they found people were using it to make hot and cold chocolate drinks with spices, often with a foamy top.

“For most of the modern period, it was a beverage,” said Marcy Norton, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World.”

The chocolate drinks in Central America often contained maize and differ from the hot chocolate sold in the U.S. They did not contain milk, Norton said, and when they were sweetened, it was with honey.

 

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A worker holds cocoa beans at SAF CACAO, a export firm in San-Pedro, Ivory Coast, Jan. 29, 2016. VOA

By the 1580s, cacao was being regularly imported into Spain and spread to other European countries with milk being added along the way. It wasn’t until the 1800s that manufacturing advances in the Netherlands transformed chocolate into a solid product, Norton said.

Michael Laiskonis, who teaches chocolate classes the Institute of Culinary Education, said he’s seeing a growing interest in cacao flavors, indicating a return to a time when chocolate wasn’t just an ingredient buried in a candy bar.

Also Read: Consuming Cacao May Improve Vitamin D Intake, Says Study

He said he tries to incorporate chocolate’s past into his classes, including a 1644 recipe that combines Mayan and Aztec versions of drinks with European influences.

“It’s something that’s always been transforming,” he said. (VOA)