Top Asian News 3:34 a.m. GMT

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The most senior Catholic to be convicted of child sex abuse will be sentenced to prison on Wednesday in an Australia landmark case that has polarized observers. Some described the prosecution as proof the church is no longer above the law, while others suspect Cardinal George Pell has been made a scapegoat for the church's sins. Pope Francis' former finance minister, who had been described as the third-highest ranking Catholic in the Vatican, has spent two weeks in a Melbourne remand jail cell since a sentencing hearing in the Victoria state County Court on Feb. 27 in which his lawyers conceded the 77-year-old must spend time behind bars.

SYDNEY (AP) — A former Bahraini soccer player and refugee has become an Australian citizen, after a detention in a Thai prison and an extradition request from his homeland raised international concern. Hakeem al-Araiby told reporters he's "an Aussie now" and is happy to be safe. The 25-year-old soccer player fled Bahrain citing political repression and had lived under refugee status in Australia for more than a year until he was detained in Bangkok in November while on holiday. Bahrain wanted him returned to serve a prison sentence for a vandalism conviction he denies, but Thailand withdrew the extradition case last month after sustained pressure from the Australian government and soccer bodies.

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia (AP) — One of two women accused of killing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half brother by smearing VX nerve agent on his face was freed after two years of detention Monday when Malaysian prosecutors unexpectedly dropped the murder charge against her. Indonesian Siti Aisyah and her Vietnamese co-defendant, Doan Thi Huong, have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a TV show. Prosecutors did not give any reason for the remarkable retreat in their case against Aisyah in the killing of Kim Jong Nam at a busy Kuala Lumpur airport terminal. Indonesia's government had lobbied repeatedly for her release.

HOUSTON (AP) — The second deadly crash of a prized new airplane in five months has renewed safety concerns about the 737 Max that could shape Boeing's fortunes for many years. The 737 Max is the newest version of the 737, the best-selling airliner ever. Since debuting in 2017, Boeing has delivered more than 350 of them in several versions that vary by size. Dozens of airlines around the world have embraced the plane for its fuel efficiency and utility for short and medium-haul flights. Boeing has taken more than 5,000 orders for the various Max versions, and they constitute the largest share of the company's backlog of nearly 5,900 planes.

HEJERE, Ethiopia (AP) — Airlines in Ethiopia, China, Indonesia and elsewhere grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliner Monday after the second devastating crash of one of the planes in five months. But Boeing said it had no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies. As the East African country mourned the 157 victims of the Ethiopian Airlines plane that went down in clear weather shortly after takeoff Sunday, investigators found the jetliner's two flight recorders at the crash site outside the capital of Addis Ababa. An airline official, however, said one of the recorders was partially damaged and "we will see what we can retrieve from it." The official spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to speak to the media.

BANGKOK (AP) — Production of methamphetamine is skyrocketing in Southeast Asia, with prices dropping and usage expanding, the U.N.'s anti-drug agency said Monday. Even as seizures of the drug known as speed, ice and "ya ba" in its various forms reached a record high last year, street prices have dropped, indicating increased availability, said a report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The agency said methamphetamine has become the main drug of concern in 12 out of 13 East and Southeast Asian countries, up from five a decade ago. The only exception was Vietnam, where heroin is considered the major problem.

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine appeals court has upheld a decision that an online news site critical of President Rodrigo Duterte violated a constitutional ban on foreign ownership of news media. The Court of Appeals said in a decision made public Monday that Rappler Inc. effectively allowed U.S.-based investor Omidyar Network "to participate" in its corporate actions and decisions in violation of the constitution, which requires media companies to be fully owned and managed by Filipinos. Rappler argued that it did not grant Omidyar the power to control or influence its news operations, but last year, the appeals court backed a Securities and Exchange Commission decision to revoke the site's license.

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese tech giant Huawei's tensions with Washington, which says the telecom equipment maker is a security risk, stretch across four continents from courtrooms to corporate boardrooms to Canadian canola fields. In the latest twist, Huawei Technologies Ltd. is asking a court in Texas to strike down a legal ban on the government using its equipment or dealing with any contractor that does. Washington is trying to persuade European and other allies to shun the biggest maker of network technology as their phone carriers invest billions of dollars in upgrading to next-generation communications. The company denies accusations it might facilitate Chinese spying or is controlled by the ruling Communist Party.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. experts say they are investigating possible violations of United Nations sanctions on North Korea in about 20 countries, from alleged clandestine nuclear procurement in China to arms brokering in Syria and military cooperation with Iran, Libya and Sudan. The expert panel's 66-page report to the Security Council, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, also detailed the appearance in North Korea of a Rolls-Royce Phantom, Mercedes-Benz limousines and Lexus LX 570 all-wheel drive luxury vehicles in violation of a ban on luxury goods. And it noted a trend in North Korea's evasion of financial sanctions "of using cyberattacks to illegally force the transfer of funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges." The report's executive summary, which was obtained in early February, said North Korea's nuclear and missile programs "remain intact" and its leaders are dispersing missile assembly and testing facilities to prevent "decapitation" strikes.

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A company run by a donor to President Donald Trump claimed it could provide Chinese clients with a chance to mingle and take photos with the president, along with access to his private club in Palm Beach, Florida. It remains unclear how much Li Yang charged for the services and whether she was ever hired to provide them. But the company's claims and other eyebrow-raising activity, which were first reported by The Miami Herald and Mother Jones, mark the latest in a litany of complications and ethical issues stemming from Trump continuing to own and operate a private club where dues-paying members and their guests rub shoulders with the president of the United States and his family, friends, White House staff and members of his Cabinet.