World News


Portuguese ex-PM arrested in fraud probe
Jose Socrates (photo: Reuters)The former prime minister of Portugal, Jose Socrates, has been arrested in an investigation into tax fraud, money laundering and corruption – according to the public prosecutor’s office.
 
The former socialist premier is one of four being held in connection with the case, and is expected to appear in court on Saturday.
 
The investigation centres on bank transfers from an unknown source, though the prosecutor’s office made clear it was not linked to the arrest of the former head of striken Portuguese bank Espirito Santo.
 
Socrates resigned in 2011 following the failure to push through a fourth austerity package in the same year.
 
It the second scandal to hit the country in a week, following the resignation of the interior minister last Sunday.
 
Several senior government officials were arrested in a probe into so-called ‘golden visas’. Under the scheme foreign investors buying property worth more than 500,000 euros received residency rights, which allowed free-movement within the EU’s Schengen area.
 
Euronews         November 22, 2014
 
Portugal interior minister resigns over ‘golden visa’ probe
Portugal interior minister resigns over ‘golden visa’ probe (photo: negocios)LISBON – Portugal’s interior minister resigned on Sunday over an investigation into alleged corruption linked to the issuing of so-called “golden visas” to wealthy foreigners but denied wrongdoing and said the move was to save damage to the government.
 
The police have arrested several high-ranking officials, including the head of the country’s immigration and border service, under the investigation. Searches were carried out last week at several locations, including the interior ministry.
 
Miguel Macedo had faced increasing pressure because of reports that he is a partner in a company identified in the investigation.
 
Mr Macedo held a televised press conference on Sunday evening to explain his resignation, saying the investigation had diminished his authority as minister, even though he had no involvement in the visas.
 
“I want to say that I have no administrative involvement whatsoever in the attribution of visas,” he said. “In other words, I have no personal responsibility of anything that is under investigation . . . I have resigned to defend the government.”
 
He did not say if he had any involvement in an outside company. He said Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho had accepted his resignation.
 
The prosecutor-general’s office said last week there were suspicions of corruption, influence-peddling and money-laundering in the investigation.
 
The golden visa programme was launched by the government in late 2012 during the country’s debt crisis and gave residency permits to non-EU citizens who invested in real estate.
 
It has brought in more than €1bn, mainly from Chinese buyers willing to invest more than €500,000 in real estate. Neighbouring Spain and some other EU countries have similar programmes.
 
The Portuguese permits allow foreigners to travel within Europe’s 26-country Schengen free-trade zone without restriction.
 
Opposition politicians have long argued that the scheme may open the way to criminals and stoke corruption. The government has insisted its checks of applicants meet EU standards but in June acknowledged it was investigating corruption allegations linked to the programme.
 
Portugal has issued the visas to about 1,500 people, most of them Chinese, as well as citizens of Russia, Brazil, Angola and other countries.
 
Financial Times         November 17, 2014
 
 
China anti-graft watchdog finds gold, cash in official's home

China anti-graft watchdog finds gold, cash in official's home (photo: Wikimedia)BEIJING - China's anti-graft watchdog has discovered 37 kg (82 lbs) of gold, documents for 68 houses and 120 million yuan ($19.6 million) in cash in the home of a Communist Party official who is being investigated for corruption, state media said.

The amount seized in the home of Ma Chaoqun, the former manager of the Beidaihe Water Supply Corporation, was so large that state news agency Xinhua called it "shocking".

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection in Hebei has accused Ma of bribery, embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds, according to the Beijing News newspaper.

Ma's case was among several other similar corruption cases in Hebei that Xinhua has dubbed "Little officials, Giant corruption".

"The amount of money involved in these cases is huge and it happened among the people," Xinhua said. "The social influence is bad and the masses have reacted strongly."

Wang Ying, a senior official with the central inspection team, said investigators were now planning to turn the spotlight onto state-owned companies after two years of checking on party members and provincial government departments.

Four previous rounds of inspections had covered seven public service institutes, six state-owned enterprises and two universities, added Wang, whose remarks were reported by Xinhua.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to target high-ranking "tigers" as well as lowly "flies" in an extensive campaign against corruption.

The crackdown has come as the government seeks to push forward a wider campaign against extravagance and decadence.

Reuters       November 14, 2014

 

 
Mexico leader faces charge contractor rewarded him with mansion

President Enrique Pena Nieto (photo: poblanerias.com)A Mexican investigative team reported Sunday that President Enrique Pena Nieto and his actress wife possess a posh mansion built to their taste by a company that has grown fat with government contracts.

Pena Nieto has not reported the mansion, worth an estimated $7 million, on his official declaration of assets in the past two years, the team said.

The allegation falls on Pena Nieto at a time when he faces lagging support and public outrage over an apparent massacre of 43 students. It may also test his image as a leader who claims to battle corruption and fight for the rule of law.

Known as Casa La Palma, the mansion was built by a subsidiary of Grupo Higa, which has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts under Pena Nieto, according to investigative reporters at aristeguinoticias.com, a news portal led by Carmen Aristegui, a radio and television journalist.

The mansion has an underground parking garage, an elevator, seven bedrooms, marble floors and a special system of recessed mood lighting that changes colors. Two distinctive palm trees jut above its white exterior.

First lady Angelica Rivera told a society magazine that the mansion belongs to her and her husband, and says it will be their future home once they leave Los Pinos, the official presidential residence in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park, even though the deed remains in the name of a subsidiary of Grupo Higa.

Rivera’s claims of possession of the mansion might not seem newsworthy, except for the explosive events of the past week.

Mexico awarded a contract Nov. 3 to a Chinese-led consortium for a high-speed rail link between Mexico City and Queretaro, a center of the aerospace industry. China Railway Construction Corp., a mammoth concern that built up much of China’s high-speed rail system in the past decade, led a consortium that was sole bidder on the project, which has been valued at between $3.7 billion and $4.3 billion.

The award came before Pena Nieto headed Sunday to Beijing for a state visit and to attend a summit of leaders in the Asia Pacific region.

But in a stunning move certain to put in jeopardy Mexico’s relations with China, Pena Nieto’s government rescinded the bid late Thursday, reacting to claims by opposition National Action Party legislators that the bid was rigged to favor the Chinese-led consortium. Authorities said the bidding would be reopened for six months to allow more companies to take part.

One of the members of the Chinese-led consortium is Constructora Teya, a Mexican company owned and controlled by Grupo Higa.

Had the bid stood, it would have been the latest stroke of fortune for Grupo Higa that began when Pena Nieto, a telegenic politician who many saw as the new face of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, took the reins as governor of the state of Mexico from 2005 to 2011. The state wraps around much of the capital.

Under Pena Nieto, the company’s subsidiaries built a regional hospital in specialized medicine, a highway leading to the largest airport in the region, and numerous other projects. One subsidiary, Eolo Plus, provided aircraft for his 2012 presidential campaign. Still others provided cement and other materials to the state.

The Mexican news team under Aristegui estimated the value of state contracts to Grupo Higa’s companies while Pena Nieto was governor at $652 million.

In a coincidence of timing, Grupo Higa launched a new subsidiary in 2008 that would begin building a mansion in the posh Lomas de Chapultepec district of the capital the day after Pena Nieto announced publicly that the television actress known to the public as La Gaviota, or Seagull, for one of her roles in a popular soap opera, had become his girlfriend.

Pena Nieto and Rivera married in 2010.

It was around then that a prominent architect, Miguel Angel Aragones, began collaborating with the president and his wife on the design of the mansion, including building six bedrooms for the six children in the combined marriage, as well as a sprawling master suite, the Aristegui news team reported.

In a television interview on Oct. 26, 2013, Aragones acknowledged that he’d worked closely with the couple, and praised Pena Nieto as a client.

"He’s a first class fellow; intelligent, sensible, respectful, friendly. It was a delight to work with him," said Aragones, who put renderings on his website (aragones.com.mx) of the mansion under its name, Casa La Palma.

The mansion slightly abuts a more modest property that Rivera said she acquired from Televisa, the entertainment conglomerate where she rose to fame, and is connected by a passageway, the news team said.

Rivera told Hola! Magazine in a splashy photo spread in May 2013 that the mansion is the home to which "she will return once her husband stops being president." She was photographed in several rooms that match the renderings of Casa La Palma.

Pena Nieto’s office did not release any reaction Sunday to the news report suggesting that the mansion was a reward for business he’d given Grupo Higa. The conglomerate’s telephone switchboard went unanswered.

Mexican law requires him as president to submit a list of his assets and those of his immediate family. In the past two years, Pena Nieto included four houses and four lots in the state of Mexico, and a condo in Acapulco.

As he approaches the start of the third year of his six-year term, Pena Nieto has repeatedly emphasized the need for Mexico to fight corruption under his slogan "Mexico on the Move," designed to underscore that he leads a modern state.

While visiting New York City on Sept. 24, Pena Nieto was tapped to chair the Open Government Partnership, a global alliance to promote transparency.

"Today, open governments are the new frontier of democracy," Pena Nieto said. "They are the most modern instrument for those interested in public matters to actively participate."

The News Tribune        November 9, 2014

 
Malaysia - Firms urged to form anti-bribery policies

Minister Datuk Paul Low Seng Kuan (photo: freemalaysiatoday.com)KUALA LUMPUR: The government has urged firms to form their own anti-bribery policies to prevent corrupt activities.

“The private sector has not come to a realisation that they need to form an anti-bribery policy within their company. We need to change the mindset of the private sector,” said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Governance, Integrity and Human Rights, Datuk Paul Low Seng Kuan.

Low said he is proposing that corporate liability laws, which will make companies liable if their employees (acting on behalf of the company) were involved in bribery be enforced.

The proposal is part of the department’s effort for sustainable transformation in integrity, governance and human rights.

Low served as the president of a non-governmental organisation called Transparency Malaysia until last year, before joining the Prime Minister’s Department

The minister also said the anti-corruption collective action and coalition against bribery in the construction industry will be launched next week.

“Controlling bribery in the construction industry is the toughest. This new coalition will involve all players including engineers, construction companies, master builders and regulators,” he said.

Business Times       November 8, 2014

 
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