Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

China’s The Belt and Road Initiative Is a Corruption Bonanza

January 17, 2019

Despots and crooks are using China’s infrastructure project to stay in power—with Beijing’s help.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the welcome ceremony for the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on May 15, 2017. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara-Pool/Getty Images)

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the welcome ceremony for the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on May 15, 2017. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara-Pool/Getty Images)

When former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was ousted from office in May 2018, it’s possible that no one was more dismayed than officials in Beijing.

After all, Najib had granted China extraordinary access to Malaysia. Across the country, huge China-backed infrastructure projects were being planned or breaking ground. But as China’s presence in Malaysia swelled, a scandal was engulfing the prime minister’s office. Najib was accused of massive corruption linked to the development fund known as 1MDB. As the election neared, his opponent, Mahathir Mohamad, alleged that some of the Chinese money pouring into Malaysia was being used to refill the fund’s graft-depleted coffers.

Now, Malaysia’s anti-corruption commission is investigating those claims. And last week, an explosive Wall Street Journal report exposed the most damning evidence yet: minutes from a series of meetings at which Malaysian officials suggested to their Chinese counterparts that China finance infrastructure projects in Malaysia at inflated costs. The implication was that the extra cash could be used to settle 1MDB’s debts. According to the report, Najib, who has denied any part in corruption, was well aware of the meetings.

If true, the report puts tangible proof behind widely held suspicions that China exploits corrupt regimes to propel its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI requires China to build infrastructure in other countries—a process that’s fraught with official approvals, feasibility studies, stakeholder engagement, and other bothersome procedures. In corrupt countries, however, many of these obstacles can be bypassed with bribes and back-room dealing—in fact, some of the red tape exists primarily to extort money from businesses. For this reason, it’s easy to understand why China might prefer working with corrupt regimes.

But not just China benefits from corruption in BRI projects. In many cases, the leaders of BRI-recipient countries see the projects as opportunities to sustain and legitimize their own corruption, as well.

Many countries that receive BRI investments suffer from high levels of corruption. On the TRACE Bribery Risk Matrix, most rank in the lower 50 percent, and 10 are among the riskiest 25 countries in the world. They often have opaque legislative processes, weak accountability mechanisms, compliant media organizations, and authoritarian governments that don’t permit dissent.

For politicians in these countries, the BRI offers an array of tools for enabling corruption: injections of easily diverted cash, dazzling infrastructure to placate the citizenry, and the imprimatur of a cozy relationship with one of the world’s most powerful nations—all of it wrapped up in a virtual guarantee that their wealthy benefactor will, at the very least, look the other way if any improprieties should surface, so long as the project in question gets built.

Malaysia has come to embody this dynamic. The new government has unearthed what it says are numerous abnormalities embedded in the previous administration’s deals with China. For instance, a Chinese state-owned enterprise was paid $2 billion in advance for two Malaysian pipeline projects that it had barely started construction on. Another BRI project, Malaysia’s East Coast Rail Link, was so expensive that authorities suspect its cost was artificially inflated. All of these projects have been suspended while the new administration reviews them.

The excess money generated by these projects was allegedly siphoned off by the Najib administration to pay down 1MDB’s debts. But while Chinese largesse may have kept these deals in the dark for a while, Malaysian voters were ultimately able to hold their prime minister accountable at the ballot box.

Not every country has that option. China’s investments in oil- and gas-rich Central Asia have allowed autocratic regimes in that region to flourish. A prime example is Kazakhstan. The Kazakh government, a veritable kleptocracy, is extremely corrupt. On Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index, Kazakhstan ranked in the bottom third of 180 countries.

Not only have BRI projects financed this government, but they’ve helped make its leadership genuinely popular as ordinary Kazakhs interpret the flashy new infrastructure as a symbol of progress. This has been crucial for the country’s rulers, since the health of the Kazakh economy is highly dependent on oil prices and economic fluctuations in Russia. In an analysis of Chinese investment in Kazakhstan, a study from the George Washington University found that “Chinese aid, loans, and partnerships … enhance the Kazakh leadership’s ability to stay in power.”

China, of course, struggles with its own share of corruption. In fact, some of China’s own infrastructural marvels have been built through means that were less than scrupulous. President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption purges have frozen some of that at home. In its construction projects abroad, however, Beijing’s approach seems to be “whatever works.” In no part of China’s lengthy declaration of the BRI’s principles is any attempt made to discourage corruption. And according to a report by Transparency International, no charges have ever been brought in China against a company, citizen, or resident for corrupt practices committed overseas.

If anything, the BRI has revealed that, for Chinese officials acclimated to corrupt environments at home, executing overseas projects through unsavory means comes somewhat naturally. Like many undertakings in China, BRI projects are subject to the slippery Chinese concept of guanxi—systems of mutually beneficial relationships that grease the wheels of many a business transaction. In China, bringing a sprawling, unwieldy infrastructure project to completion without guanxi can seem an impossible task.

But without proper policing, these mutually beneficial relationships are ripe for corruption. A recent study found that “guanxi has profound influence on almost all social interactions in China, whether it is in the government or in business. As such, it blurs the line between normal guanxi relationships and corrupt practices, making corruption an intrinsic characteristic of the Chinese government, as well as the Chinese society.”

While Chinese corruption at home doesn’t threaten to bankrupt the government, Chinese corruption in smaller, poorer countries sometimes does. For some of these countries, China’s BRI project is the biggest infrastructural endeavor they’ve ever attempted—a high-stakes gamble collateralized with mountains of debt. When such projects are approved by local leaders more interested in enriching themselves than in weighing the cost for their country, locals can find themselves crushed beneath the weight of white elephants.

Laos may face this fate. At China’s behest, Laos is building a railway from its northern border to Thailand with a large loan from a Chinese bank. The $6 billion project was championed by the country’s former deputy prime minister, Somsavat Lengsavad, a fluent Mandarin speaker with close ties to Beijing. Somsavat almost single-handedly ushered the project through the Lao bureaucracy, despite warnings from the International Monetary Fund that it threatened the country’s ability to service its debts.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shows the way to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China.   AP/Ng Han Guan, File

Why Somsavat was so keen on the railway remains unknown, though corruption is rife in Laos, and bribery in foreign-built Lao development projects is common. One foreign diplomat working in Laos says the regular visits to Vientiane by Chinese emissaries “don’t just flatter Lao officials—concrete things get exchanged between Chinese and Lao delegates at these meetings.”

Laos should look to Sri Lanka, where Hambantota Port was built by China under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. When Rajapaksa faced an electoral challenge in 2015, money earmarked for the port’s construction somehow found its way into the president’s campaign coffers. In the end, Rajapaksa lost the election, and the port proved so unprofitable that the new government was forced to hand it over to China in a debt-for-equity swap.

Deals such as this are a reminder that, for China, the BRI is as much a foreign-policy instrument—and sometimes a domestic political move—as it is an economic program. BRI projects that are aimed at advancing China’s strategic goals, or that are launched by party officials chiefly interested in signaling their loyalty to Xi, will often not produce the kind of economic returns that would pass muster in a cost-benefit analysis. This is why China needs leaders like Najib, Somsavat, and Rajapaksa to get such projects approved, despite their dubious value to the country they’re built in.

But just as China needs these politicians, they need China, too. The relationship between China and corrupt BRI partners is symbiotic and, often, more complex than simple bribery. In Malaysia’s case, it increasingly appears that the Najib administration’s defining aspect, the 1MDB fraud and its subsequent cover-up, relied heavily on infusions of BRI cash. Indeed, if Najib had not been voted out of office last May, his alleged rerouting of Chinese investments might be ongoing to this day. But the problem with leveraging BRI projects to enable homegrown corruption is that once you’re caught, you’re on your own, and China is on to the next big thing.

Will Doig is a journalist covering urban development, transportation, and infrastructure. He is the author of “High Speed Empire: Chinese Expansion and the Future of Southeast Asia.

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Xi Jinping (R) is discussing ways to improve bilateral ties with Tanzanian President Jakaya

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President Xi Jinping met in Xiamen with President Jacob Zuma of South Africa


El Chapo paid $100M bribe to ex-Mexican president: secretary

January 16, 2019

Drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman paid a $100 million bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2012, his former secretary alleged in explosive testimony Tuesday.

“You gave a story that Mr. Guzman paid a bribe to Mr. Peña Nieto of $100 million,” Chapo’s lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman asked Alex Cifuentes during cross-examination in Brooklyn federal court, referring to his previous discussions with US authorities.

“That’s right,” Cifuentes said.

The bribe allegedly took place in October 2012 — which was after he was elected but before he took office in December that year.

Lichtman noted Cifuentes had told authorities the graft was delivered by a woman named Madre Maria in Mexico City.

“Joaquin told me,” Cifuentes said.

Lichtman said Cifuentes had at one point told the government that Chapo paid Peña Nieto $250 million, but Cifuentes said no — that’s just what the former president had asked for.

“I told them [Chapo] had been requested an amount of money, but he had offered a different amount and that he paid that money,” said Cifuentes.

Peña Nieto has previously denied taking bribes from Chapo.

His denial came after Lichtman’s opening statements in the case in November, when the lawyer alleged both Peña Nieto and his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, took bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel.

On Tuesday, he said Cifuentes had told authorities in 2016 that rival Mexican drug smugglers the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel had been paying Calderón for protection against Chapo — but the witness said he now doesn’t remember.

“I don’t remember if the payments were made to Mr. Calderón,” Cifuentes said.

Cifuentas did acknowledge telling authorities that the Mexican government got in touch with Chapo at an unspecified time to tell him he could come out of hiding.

“That very thing is what Joaquin said to me,” he said. “They wanted to work with him.”

He also recalled telling the government that the Mexican Federal Police allegedly trafficked drugs with the Sinaloa Cartel and Beltrán-Leyva.

Cifuentas alleged the crooked cops would be sent photos of suitcases containing illicit cargo and the number of the flight they were on, and then go claim the baggage.

“And they would sell the drugs?” Lichtman asked.

“Yes,” Cifuentas responded.

Philippine National Police Filed Criminal Complaint Against Mayor as Mastermind in the Mafia-Style Killing Political Rival Rodel Batocabe, Bodyguard

January 15, 2019

The Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group filed criminal and administrative complaints against Daraga Mayor Carlwyn Baldo in relation to the murder of Rep. Rodel Batocabe (Ako Bicol Party-list).

The police has tagged Baldo as the mastermind in the killing of Batocabe  and his bodyguard Senior Police Officer 1 Orlando Diaz.

Daraga Mayor Carlwyn Baldo reads a statement during a press conference in his office on Jan. 3, 2019, hours after police tagged him as the mastermind in the killing of Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe. All suspects in the assassination, except the mayor, are in police custody.

The STAR/Cet Dematera


In a letter dated January 11, the CIDG requested the Office of the Ombudsman to take appropriate action on Baldo’s offenses — conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and graft and corruption.

The police asked the court to look into the administrative aspect of the two counts of murder and six counts of multiple frustrated murder as defined under the Revised Penal Code.

The ombudsman was also asked to investigate the supposed disbursement of public funds for salaries of ghost employees in Daraga.

Batocabe and his security escort were shot dead while attending a gift-giving event in Barangay Burgos, Daraga, Albay on Dec. 22, 2018 while six others suffered gunshot wounds.

The slain lawmaker was Baldo’s opponent in the mayoral race in the upcoming midterm elections. — Patricia Lourdes Viray




Pakistan: The emperor’s new clothes

January 13, 2019

THE emperor walked beneath the beautiful canopy in the procession, and all the people in the street and in their windows said, “Goodness, the emperor’s new clothes are incomparable! What a beautiful train on his jacket. What a perfect fit!” No one wanted it to be noticed that he could see nothing, for then it would be said that he was unfit for his position or that he was stupid. None of the emperor’s clothes had ever before received such praise.

“But he doesn’t have anything on!” said a small child.

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Pakistan’s most recent emperor problem is about to exit. The tales are many but they shall have to wait until after retirement — and perhaps never be told. After all, when one emperor exits, another tends to quickly appear. The system abhors a vacuum of would-be saviours.

They’ve all stood silent as the emperor passed by them with his new clothes on.

Who knows the rabbits the next one will have us chasing after.

By Cyril Almeida

But as we bid farewell to one and prepare for the arrival of the next, let’s turn to the starring role in the Hans Christian Andersen tale: the child who cried, “But he doesn’t have anything on!”

Where is the Pakistani version of that child?

Someone to say, no, this is wrong, you can’t do that. Stick to your job, stop interfering, stop pretending you know better, stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Stop trying to invent reality!

Or even a mild version of that.

Where is the person within the system willing to say no?

It can’t be that hard; it isn’t that hard. Especially within the court. An odious character showed the way recently, but for the wrong reasons and in a terrible way. But what happened to him? Stripped of his high-court judgeship, he’s been sent home.

That’s it. He lost his job and maybe his pension and probably a shot at one of those post-retirement sinecures that abound. For some that’s a lot to sacrifice and maybe even too much. But not for everyone.

And yet they’ve all stood silent as the emperor passed by them with his new clothes on.

It is possible that the more damage was caused by Iftikhar Chaudhry. He didn’t just think he was the messiah, he had proved that he was — who else can claim to have slain a dictator through mere defiance in a robe.

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The worst thing about Chaudhry was that he was aware of what he had achieved and had an appreciation for the system — and his potentially limitless role within it. Chaudhry may have been mocked for trying to fix the price of sugar and excoriated for wading into the Steel Mills sale, but it was his eye for institutional and constitutional re-jigging that was truly dangerous.

Had it not been for the unavoidable judicial retirement age locked into the Constitution — who knows where we’d be today.

In contrast, the current occupant can seem tame. Flitting here and there, disrupting private and state business, it hasn’t really amounted to much. No prime ministers ousted — though maybe that was already done — no shockwaves through the system, nothing that can’t be patiently reversed.

But he could yet end up being worse because of something else: a willingness to break out of the judicial straitjacket and head for the orchestra pit itself, conducting an incoherent symphony.

Chaudhry is more famous, a trailblazer, as it were, but the incumbent has raised the populist bar. In theory, it’s easy enough for the successor to walk back: just don’t do what the predecessor has done.

But it may not be that easy.

First, you need a willingness to do so — to walk back some of the excesses and make the institution less of a lightning rod. But before the incumbent became the best known judge in the land, there was another.

To be overshadowed is a worrying place to start from.

Second, the judge headed for the exit has already taken the hit for being unconventional. The folksy, always-in-the-headlines, being-the-centre-of-everything model is already here and the public has been primed to accept and enjoy it.

Third, it is real power and leverage. Whimsical, arbitrary and fierce may be hard to make institutional sense of, but when you’re pounding the gavel and working the headlines, you are creating significant space for yourself within the system. Folk ignore your orders and ignore you at their peril.

All of which to say, more than ever we may need that child to cry, “But he doesn’t have anything on!”

It is depressing to think that there is no such man, woman or child here.

So maybe all we can do is remember how the Hans Christen Andersen fable The Emperor’s New Clothes ends:

“Good Lord, let us hear the voice of an innocent child!” said the father, and whispered to another what the child had said.

“A small child said that he doesn’t have anything on!”

Finally everyone was saying, “He doesn’t have anything on!”

The emperor shuddered, for he knew that they were right, but he thought, “The procession must go on!” He carried himself even more proudly, and the chamberlains walked along behind carrying the train that wasn’t there.

The End.

The procession must go on. The emperor has no clothes. There is no child here in this luckless land of ours to tell us the truth.

The writer is a member of staff.
Twitter: @cyalm

In Sudan, no one is clear on what happens after al-Bashir

January 12, 2019

“The Islamists have the power to reorganize and regain power.” — “Jihad” is till possible.

As violent anti-government protests enter their fourth week, Sudan appears headed toward political paralysis, with drawn-out unrest across much of the country and a fractured opposition without a clear idea of what to do if their wish to see the country’s leader of 29 years go comes true.

Even for a country that looks unwieldy when its’s not tearing itself apart, President Omar al-Bashir’s years at the helm have turned Sudan into a cautionary tale — from genocide and bloody rebellions to ethnic cleansing, starvation and rampant corruption.

The rally was the first held in Khartoum in support of President Omar al-Bashir since protests erupted last month [Reuters]

President Omar al-Bashir  [Reuters]

But Sudan has been hard to rule way before al-Bashir seized power in a 1989 military coup. Protest leaders say a whole new start is needed if the country is to stand any chance of progressing.

“There may be very few people out there who still support this regime, the way it governed or its use of an Islamic narrative,” said Othman Mirghani, a prominent Sudanese analyst. “The conclusion reached by the people is that this regime must be brought down and the search start for a modern Sudanese state based on contemporary values.”

Here is a look at where things stand after more than three weeks of protests, which claimed at least 40 lives.



The military and democratically elected governments have taken turns ruling Sudan since independence in 1956, with coups bringing the generals to power, only to be brought down eventually by popular uprisings. The only exception was in 1986 when the army honored its promise to hand over the reins to an elected government a year after it seized power.

Sudanese protesters affected by tear gas cover their faces during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Khartoum on January 6, 2018 [Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

Sudanese protesters affected by tear gas cover their faces during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Khartoum on January 6, 2018 [Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

The military has been the dominant force in Sudan since independence and, analysts and activists say. Al-Bashir hails from the military, but he has sidelined the army as the country’s main fighting force, replacing it with loyal paramilitary forces he created.

That has frustrated middle and lower ranking officers, in large part because the state’s largesse has gone to the paramilitary forces and security agencies, not them.

Since the current protests began Dec. 19, the military twice stated its support for the country’s “leadership” and pledged to protect the people’s “achievements.” Neither time did it mention al-Bashir by name.

Army troops have deployed to protect vital state installations but have not tried to stop protests and, in some cases, appeared to offer a measure of protection for the demonstrators.

All that raises the possibility the military could take over again and remove al-Bashir. But many fear the Sudan Rapid Forces, a 70,000-strong, well-armed paramilitary force of tribesmen allied with al-Bashir, could respond by stepping in, whether to protect the president or install someone of their own.

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Sudan Rapid Forces

Curiously, the 74-year-old al-Bashir said Tuesday he would not mind if he is replaced by someone from the military.

Egyptian Sudan expert Hany Raslan said that “in any normal country, al-Bashir’s comments would have been interpreted as part of a transfer of power, but that is Sudan and he is most likely just trying to curry favor with the military.”

If Sudan’s stretches of military rule brought suppression of freedoms and human rights violations, its brief democratic spells — 1956-1958, 1964-1969 and 1986-1989 — were defined by their ineffectiveness. Traditional parties like the Umma and Democratic Union governed, but their failure to build a modern state and put the economy on solid footing paved the way for the next military takeover.



Al-Bashir seized power with the backing of the military and Islamists, who then formed the bedrock of his rule. For the past three decades, his National Congress Party — dominated by hardline Islamists — has had a lock on government and dominated the economy.

The leadership has styled itself as bringing Islamic rule by Shariah to Sudan and styled its past wars as “jihad,” whether against southerners or against insurgents in the western Darfur region. Al-Bashir often denounces “secularists” as Sudan’s worst enemies and touts his long rule as proof of God’s support.

A wave of protests across Sudan began in the northeastern city of Atbara on December 19 [AFP]

A wave of protests across Sudan began in the northeastern city of Atbara on December 19 [AFP]

Critics, however, say the Islamist ideology has largely become a veneer for a political machine that allows al-Bashir’s relatives, loyalists, politicians and businessmen to amass wealth by their links to the government.

“It is not an Islamic experiment, it is an experiment that uses religious slogans as a cover for practices that have nothing to do with Islam,” said Mirghani, the Sudanese analyst.

But even if al-Bashir goes, his cadres and other loyalists will still have considerable power and are likely to resist major change, backed by a religious rhetoric that can still rally some in the population to their side.



When past popular uprisings succeeded, the elected governments that followed were chiefly built around the Umma and Democratic Union parties.

Omar al Bashir

These two traditional parties are now weak and fractured. Moreover, their political discourse is also immersed in religion, something which does not resonate with many in the new generation of mainly young street activists loyal to liberal parties and professional unions or those acting independently.

“It will be a misguided step if we publicly describe ourselves as liberals or secularists, but what we are looking for is policies that are essentially liberal while not blatantly contrary to Islamic teachings,” said a 26-year-old protester. “We need a government of technocrats. We are done with the traditional parties,” she said, speaking on condition she not be named for fear of reprisals.

The activists and analysts say the weakness of opposition groups is a direct product of al-Bashir’s divide-and-rule tactics, constantly luring senior politicians away from their parties with lofty promises of national unity and a shot at positions that they can abuse for personal gain.

The protesters often chant “freedom, peace and justice” and “the people want to bring down the regime” — the latter the chief slogan of the Arab Spring revolts of 2011. But there isn’t a clear path for reaching their ambitions.

“There is no doubt that there will be big changes as a result of these protests, but they will never be of the magnitude that Sudan needs,” said another activist, who also did not want to be named.

“Al-Bashir could resign or be removed by the army, but the Islamists have the power to reorganize and regain power,” she said.

Associated Press

El Chapo: Leadership style of the man who flooded the U.S. with cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine

January 12, 2019

How a real-life drug lord manages people — The trial of the alleged drug kingpin offers a glimpse ….



On a makeshift gravel runway near the Mexican city of Durango, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo, climbed out of his damaged Cessna 206 feeling lucky to be alive.

He already knew one thing for certain. Miguel Angel Martínez, the inexperienced young pilot he’d recruited to transport cocaine from Colombia, wasn’t working out.

Two months earlier, a plane Mr. Martínez was co-piloting ran out of gas on approach and broke its landing gear. This time, he’d touched down so ineptly that the propeller struck the ground.

The boss gave Mr. Martínez an impromptu performance review. “Mr. Guzmán told me that I was a really bad pilot and that he didn’t want me to continue working for him as a pilot,” he said. The larger question, of course, was what El Chapo planned to do next.

When junior employees at most companies make a series of egregious errors, they know what to expect from their supervisors. I’ll need you to clean out your desk. When your boss is the alleged kingpin of the Sinaloa cartel, the protocol is a little different. When your employees have seen enough to testify against you, firing them isn’t an option.

Mr. Guzmán’s ongoing federal narcotrafficking trial in New York, where Mr. Martínez told this story in testimony, has raised the veil on a sprawling operation that flooded the U.S. with as much as 4,000 tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine. But witnesses have also offered a glimpse into something even more elusive: how a real-life drug lord manages people.

Help! My Boss Is El Chapo

Inside Mr. Guzmán’s alleged criminal enterprise, talent and job performance were less important than unconditional loyalty. In fact, abundant brain power could be dangerous. In a business where chief executives never retire, many ambitious lieutenants will become restless and, in some cases, try to topple the boss.

In 1987, when Mr. Martínez botched that landing, El Chapo had only two realistic options, neither of which was ideal. He could forgive the pilot and assign him another job, or he could have him shot.

Mr. Guzmán’s gun-toting bodyguard preferred the latter option. “He wanted to kill me,” Mr. Martínez told the court.

After calmly persuading his henchman to holster his weapon, El Chapo pulled Mr. Martínez aside. He was done flying, but he wasn’t going to die. In fact, he was getting a promotion.

Mr. Guzmán wanted to open an office in Mexico City to serve as a beachhead for doling out bribes to his growing network of corrupt police and government officials, and he asked Mr. Martínez to run it.

In 1987, witnesses said, Mr. Guzmán had only a small number of employees, including family members. He was a hands-on boss who still helped to load and unload his cocaine shipments. He must have figured that sparing Mr. Martínez might earn his lifelong loyalty, so there was less upside in whacking him than trying to coach him up.

By escaping from prison twice and dodging an assassination attempt, Mr. Guzmán, who pleaded not guilty to all 17 counts in his federal indictment, including conspiracy to murder, has become a folk hero to some. Federal marshals reprimanded spectators outside court for waving at him or even flashing a thumbs-up.

His defense team contends he was a bit player in the drug world and that U.S. law enforcement has inflated his reputation to make him seem like a bigger trophy than he really is.

El Chapo ran a complex network of hit men, guards, pilots and engineers. A Chicago federal prosecutor references an organizational chart in 2015.
El Chapo ran a complex network of hit men, guards, pilots and engineers. A Chicago federal prosecutor references an organizational chart in 2015. PHOTO: CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Witnesses say that as a cartel leader, El Chapo attended endless meetings and handled issues familiar to any chief executive: sales, finance, pricing, distribution, marketing, quality control and risk management. At its height, they say, he employed scores of hit men, security guards, pilots, engineers, accountants and secretaries; owned planes, ships, speedboats, submarines, tanker trucks and railcars, and operated dozens of warehouses.

But the cartel’s peculiar needs, such as creating shell companies, laundering money and investing millions in bribes and military-grade weapons, added a high degree of complexity. To maximize their profits and stay out of prison, rival bosses had little choice but to work together.

Running a criminal enterprise of this scale made El Chapo aggressively paranoid. Witnesses say he bought scramblers to avoid detection and used wiretapping gear to spy on rivals and monitor his own people. He showed no mercy to those who crossed him.

At the same time, he plied his workers with gifts, treated them with deference and often tolerated their stupid mistakes. In a recorded conversation with a dealer who’d asked for a discount on heroin, Mr. Guzmán said: “We’re here at your service, you know that.” In another recording, he calmly implored a lieutenant to stop beating up the police. “They’re the ones who help,” he said.

The Mexico City office Mr. Martínez opened for the boss didn’t have a sign that said “Sinaloa Cartel,” of course. “We were pretending to be lawyers,” he testified. El Chapo, who could go unnoticed on the street back then, showed up almost daily.

The boss endeared himself to his bungling ex-pilot by taking him on sentimental visits to his hometown, La Tuna, and refusing to let him carry a gun for fear he might injure himself. When El Chapo asked to be the godfather to his newborn son, Mr. Martínez didn’t hesitate. “I was glad,” he testified.

Members of the Sinaloa cartel after their arrest in Peru in 2014. For El Chapo’s workers, talent was less important than loyalty.
Members of the Sinaloa cartel after their arrest in Peru in 2014. For El Chapo’s workers, talent was less important than loyalty. PHOTO: CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Building bonds of affection with a barely competent employee isn’t something we often associate with sociopaths. But the list of star witnesses in El Chapo’s trial suggests it might have been a prudent move.

The most damning testimony against him doesn’t involve the occasional employee blunder; it has come from the creative treachery of its best and brightest. Pedro Flores, a prolific Chicago drug dealer whom Mr. Guzmán had personally courted, contacted law enforcement and began recording conversations in a bid to spare his family from a life of crime. Cristian Rodríguez, a Colombian IT whiz who built the cartel’s secure communications network, gave the encryption keys to the FBI.

By 1993, Mr. Martínez testified that he was running all of Mr. Guzmán’s companies. He stored, packaged and shipped drugs to the U.S. and received and exchanged the money. The pilot who’d initially signed on for $25,000 a flight had become El Tololoche—a wealthy narcoexecutive with, as defense lawyers allege, a prodigious cocaine habit.

When Mr. Martínez was arrested and sent to a Mexican prison, his compadre’s patronage abruptly ended. He claimed he survived a stabbing, a grenade attack and two more attempts on his life that were ordered by Mr. Guzmán. He was eventually extradited to the U.S., where he agreed to testify and was placed in the witness-protection program.

The leadership lesson here is a murky one. Should legitimate CEOs put loyalty before talent and treat employees like family members—all while obsessively spying on them? I don’t think so. The main reason this model worked for El Chapo is that even a moron can sell drugs to Americans.

In the end, perhaps, the one thing this trial will contribute to the management canon is a new entry to the dubious list of terms companies have used to describe their approach to human resources.

GE once practiced “rank and yank.” Other companies live by the motto “hire slow, fire fast.” If the Sinaloa cartel had chosen a management slogan, it might have been “coddle or kill.”

Write to Sam Walker at

Mexico City pipeline hit by ‘sabotage’ amid crackdown on fuel theft

January 12, 2019

A major fuel pipeline that supplies Mexico City remained closed after two ruptures in a single day, the president said on Friday, as the government works to stem shortages that have frustrated motorists and triggered economic risks.

Image result for Mexico, cars line up for gas, pictures

Cars line up as gas runs dry

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s offensive against fuel robbers marks the leftist’s first attempt to tackle entrenched corruption since taking office on Dec. 1.

Criminal groups have tapped pipelines and stolen tanker trucks carrying diesel and gasoline in the oil-producing country for years, costing the government billions of dollars.

The government will assign 8,300 police and 1,400 security vehicles over the next 48 hours to safeguard fuel trucks so they can deliver to gas stations, said Mexico’s National Chamber of Freight Transport (CANACAR).

A key pipeline running from the port of Tuxpan in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz to Mexico City was shut down on Thursday night and repairs were underway, Lopez Obrador said on Friday.

The pipeline was hit at daybreak on Thursday and repaired, only to suffer another rupture at 11 p.m., he said.

“There’s sabotage,” he said. “Let’s see who gets tired first.”

The series of disruptions to the pipeline in recent days had caused shortfalls in supply for Mexico City and surrounding states.

Cars lined up by the dozen at stations throughout the capital on Friday, many before dawn, fearing that the shortages that fanned into the megacity this week from nearby states could persist.

Local television showed angry protesters blocking a major roadway in Mexico City’s Iztapalapa neighborhood.

The head of Mexico’s central bank said on Thursday that the economy and inflation rate could be negatively affected if fuel distribution problems persist.

The closure of a pipeline from the Salamanca refinery in the central state of Guanajuato last weekend cut off supply for numerous gas stations.

Lopez Obrador later said the military had discovered a 3-km (1.9 mile)-long “hose” that was funneling fuel out of storage tanks from the facility to a secret storage area.

The president also confirmed some congestion at key ports where imported motor fuels arrive, noting that some tanker ships were awaiting to discharge cargos, but he did not provide details.

Bottlenecks at Mexico’s main Gulf coast and Pacific coast ports have increased during this week, and now prevent almost 10 million barrels of gasoline and diesel from discharging on schedule, further complicating distribution, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.

On Tuesday, 24 vessels were backed up at ports, while that number has grown to 39 by Friday.

Six tankers loaded with liquefied petroleum gas, used mostly for heating, are also waiting to discharge.

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Marianna Parraga; Editing by Marguerita Choy & Kim Coghill


See also:

Fuel Crisis Hits Mexico After Pipelines Are Closed

China’s Digital Silk Road Is Looking More Like an Iron Curtain — “We have sold ourselves to the Chinese.”

January 10, 2019

The funding of tech projects in dozens of countries may well divide the world.

The first billboard that greets passengers arriving at the airport in Lusaka, before Pepsi’s “Welcome to Zambia,” is an advertisement for Bank of China. Nearby, a Chinese company is building a sleek terminal. On the road into the capital city, near the office of Chinese telecom company ZTE Corp., another billboard features surveillance cameras made by Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. At the national data center built by Huawei Technologies Co., a Chinese man in a bright orange vest walks toward a building that houses government servers.

relates to China’s Digital Silk Road Is Looking More Like an Iron Curtain

Ads for China’s telecommunications and tech-infrastructure companies appear prominently in developing countries such as Zambia.   PHOTOGRAPHER: WALDO SWIEGERS/BLOOMBERG

This southern African nation, a former British colony rich in copper and cobalt, is spending $1 billion on Chinese-made telecommunications, broadcasting, and surveillance technology. It’s all part of China’s “Digital Silk Road,” a subset of its “Belt and Road” initiative that contributes an estimated $79 billion in projects around the world, according to RWR Advisory Group, a Washington consulting firm that tracks Chinese investment. That funding has boosted development in Zambia and many other countries, but it comes at a price.

Most of the digital infrastructure projects in Zambia, like the more visible airport terminals and highways, are being built and financed by China, putting the country at what the International Monetary Fund calls a high risk of debt distress. It’s also given rise to fears that what has long been a thriving and stable multiparty democracy is veering toward a Chinese model of repression.

“We have sold ourselves to the Chinese,” says Gregory Chifire, the director of an anticorruption organization who fled the country after being sentenced in November to six years in prison on what Amnesty International calls trumped-up charges. “People’s freedom to express themselves—their freedom of thought, their freedom of speech—is shrinking by the day.”

Zambian government officials defend their reliance on Chinese technology and deny it’s being used for political purposes. “The government has the responsibility to invest in infrastructure,” says Dora Siliya, the information minister. “Zambia’s model for development is neither the West’s nor China’s but an attempt to take the best from both. We have a Zambia model.” The Chinese Embassy in Lusaka didn’t respond to requests for an interview.

What’s playing out in Zambia is part of a larger contest between the U.S. and China for dominance over the future of technology and global influence. Companies from both countries sell tech products around the world, but Chinese businesses are offering a wide range of gear and relatively cheap financing in countries from Zimbabwe to Vietnam. They have an advantage in developing nations such as Zambia, which are looking to modernize their technology infrastructure.

The rivalry risks dividing the world with a digital iron curtain. The potential for bifurcation is already noticeable, as U.S. allies including Australia and New Zealand have banned Huawei and ZTE from providing equipment for 5G wireless technology on national security grounds and Canada arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in December on allegations she defrauded banks to violate Iranian sanctions. Huawei and ZTE are both private companies and have pushed back against allegations that they’re pawns of the Chinese government.

China is exporting to at least 18 countries sophisticated surveillance systems capable of identifying threats to public order and has made it easier to repress free speech in 36 others, according to an October report published by Washington watchdog Freedom House. “They are passing on their norms for how technology should govern society,” says Adrian Shahbaz, the author of the report, which found that Zambia had slipped in the group’s ranking of national internet and media freedoms for the past two years. Nadège Rolland, a senior fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research, a Washington think tank, says, “There’s a 1984 component to it that’s kind of scary.”

Discussions with government officials in Lusaka often begin with a history lesson. First comes the what-did-the-West-ever-do-besides-exploit-us part, followed by a version of the China-has-always-been-our-friend speech. It’s a convenient way to defend the growing reliance on Chinese projects that’s raised Zambia’s debt to that country to $3.1 billion, about one-third of its total foreign debt, according to government estimates.

That’s the way it plays during a December interview with Brian Mushimba, Zambia’s minister in charge of transport and communications. He’s from Zambia’s Copperbelt, one of 16 children. He studied engineering at the University of Arizona, worked at Pratt & Whitney in Hartford, and has an American wife. But he’s a firm defender of China’s development agenda, saying it’s lifted millions of people out of poverty and offers the same to Zambia. “China has not only done this but is willing to share and give cheap financing for us to also do it,” he says, sitting in his office in a one-story colonial-era building with peeling pale-peach paint. “Their model is very interesting, very different from how the Western world interacted with Africa. China serves as a model worth replicating.”

A Bank of China billboard greets travelers at the airport in Lusaka.
A Bank of China billboard greets travelers at the airport in Lusaka.

The 44-year-old minister has invoked the “China way” of dealing with the internet when threatening to ban Google and Facebook, which has provided a platform for disinformation campaigns in Myanmar and other countries. He’s called “fake news” a threat to national security and urged self-censorship, saying the government has the ability to monitor all digital devices in the country. A draft cyberlaw scheduled for debate in the National Assembly this year would create an agency with the power to determine whether information published online threatens national security, punishable by jail time, something free-press advocates say could be applied to news organizations that expose corruption. Criticizing President Edgar Lungu in social media posts has already landed several people in prison on charges of defamation.

While Mushimba acknowledges that the idea of governance “with less dissenting views” is in conflict with Zambia’s democracy and free press, he denies the government is trying to stifle expression and says it’s just enforcing the law. “The internet is a powerful tool that can’t be left to run wild,” he says. “The government has good intentions—the good intention to keep peace, order, and security in the country.

Talk of restrictions doesn’t sit well with Richard Mulonga, the 39-year-old founder of Bloggers of Zambia, a group that’s been urging the government to follow European standards of cyberlaw. Mulonga, a photojournalist fired from his job at a state-run newspaper after he posted pictures on his blog that the paper wouldn’t publish, says free-speech advocates are fearful. “Citizens have the right to hold power to account,” Mulonga says, sipping coffee in a Lusaka hotel lobby, a Facebook pen clipped to the collar of his black T-shirt. “Only through free expression can we participate in democracy.”

In 2013 and 2014 the government blocked at least four websites by using a technique typically associated with censorship in China, according to the Open Observatory of Network Interference, a global network that collects data on internet tampering. It couldn’t prove Chinese equipment was involved, but its report cited information that Zambia had installed internet monitoring and blocking equipment from ZTE and Huawei. State-run Zambia Telecommunications Co.and its regulator declined to answer questions. A Huawei spokesman in Lusaka says he’s unaware of the company’s technology being used for such purposes.

Zambian Watchdog, which focuses on corruption, was one of the websites blocked. Today, its posts are regularly called “fake news” by government officials. Representatives of the group didn’t respond to requests for comment. But editors of the Mast, a newspaper often critical of the government, were willing to talk about the climate of fear engendered by new technologies.

“Being a newspaper, if you’re going to call a source, it means they know who you’re calling,” says editor Larry Moonze, sitting at a conference table in one bedroom of the two-bedroom house where the newspaper is produced. “Media institutions are working under fear of the government, with the help of the Chinese,” adds Chief Executive Officer Likezo Kayongo, whose brother founded a predecessor publication that was raided and shut down in 2016.

ZTE is also installing cameras in public spaces in Lusaka as part of a $210 million “Safe City” project. The contract was canceled in 2013, over irregularities in how it was awarded, then reinstated in 2015, government officials confirm. The project is designed to increase policing power in a city that’s already one of the safest in southern Africa.

Zambia has seen a lot of Chinese investment in recent years. Pictures taken in Lusaka, Zambia
Outside Huawei’s office in Lusaka.

In China, authorities use surveillance systems with facial recognition software to compare citizens against government databases, allowing them to track those with dissenting viewsas well as criminals. In Zambia, “there will be no political uses,” says Chileshe Mulenga, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is in charge of the project. “We are not passive. We are defending our interests.”

Representatives of ZTE in Zambia and China declined to talk about the company’s projects. Huawei spokesman Hansen He was more talkative. He says his company’s “Smart Zambia” initiative, which includes plans to bring mobile and broadband connectivity to rural villages without coverage and to put government functions online, is supplying technology for what Zambia wants to do and the support to make sure it works. “We just provide the solutions,” he says. “They are the operators to run it.”

Huawei also built Zambia’s national data center, which handles all government data and storage. Zeko Mbumwae, the center’s general manager, says officials have no concerns that the gear could be used for Chinese intelligence or data-gathering purposes. “Once someone’s built you a home, you change the locks,” he says. “That’s what we did.”

Another Chinese-funded project is the migration from analog to digital TV, which is being handled by TopStar Communications Co., a 60-40 venture between Beijing-based StarTimes Group and Zambia’s state-owned broadcaster, ZNBC. Chifire, the anticorruption activist, has called it “one of the biggest financial scandals in modern-day Zambia.”

The country of about 17 million people is spending $282 million on the switch, or about $16.60 a person. That’s 46 percent more on a per-person basis than South Africa is spending. Zambia borrowed almost all of the funding from the Export-Import Bank of China. Independent stations complained that they were being turned into content providers for the government’s network and protested the $72,000 in monthly fees for TopStar to carry their channels. They said the fees would put them out of business, leaving only a Chinese company and its state-run partner as the nation’s primary TV outlet. “We’re not refusing to pay,” says Costa Mwansa, CEO of Diamond TV. “What we are refusing is figures that will kick us out of business.”

Data: RWR Advisory Group. Includes projects completed or initiated outside China since 2012 that enhance the digital infrastructure of the target country. Does not include mergers or acquisitions. Dollar values for some projects are unavailable and therefore aren’t reflected in country totals.

The government says Zambia’s digital migration is expensive because the project includes eight new studios, broadcasting vans, and trips to China to train hundreds of ZNBC journalists. Anyone who criticizes the cost is comparing apples to oranges, says Siliya, the information minister. “The corruption assumption being perpetuated is wrong.”

Similar debates are going on across Africa and other continents as Chinese digital infrastructure spreads its roots. In neighboring Zimbabwe, where Hikvision surveillance cameras are being installed in the capital, Guangzhou-based CloudWalk Technology Co. won a contract last year for Africa’s first artificial intelligence project. It stalled when the government asked for a discount after learning that facial data would be transmitted to China to help the company perfect its technology, says Shingi Magada, a China-based Zimbabwean consultant who helped broker the deal. “We were just giving away our data,” he says. Hikvision has come in with a competing offer, and the Zimbabwean government is keen to go ahead at the right price, he adds. Neither Hikvision nor CloudWalk responded to requests for comment.

In Mauritius, off Africa’s east coast, Huawei is installing 4,000 cameras. Opposition politicians fear an increase in monitoring and surveillance. “It’s really Big Brother,” says Xavier-Luc Duval, a former deputy prime minister who now leads the opposition at the National Assembly. “They’ll be able to spy on all political opponents and control all the political activity. The potential for misuse is enormous.”

Zambia has seen a lot of Chinese investment in recent years. Pictures taken in Lusaka, Zambia
An ad in Lusaka for China’s Hikvision, the world’s largest surveillance-camera company.

Concerns that Chinese technology could be used for spying flared last year when Le Monde reported that data had been transmitted from the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to China nightly for years. The $200 million building was built by a Chinese company with Chinese funding. China dismissed the allegations. The organization, after accusing China of spying, backtracked.

In Vietnam, hackers took over screens and audio communications in the country’s two major airports in 2016 to broadcast propaganda supporting China’s claims in the South China Sea. The incident caused an alarmed Vietnamese government to warn its agencies and companies to reduce their reliance on Chinese equipment, which was believed to have played a role.

Potential threats to national security like these have prompted the U.S., Australia, and Japan to take countermeasures against the spread of Chinese technology. The three have opposed plans by Huawei to lay submarine cable connecting Australia to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. But a Huawei cable project within Papua New Guinea is going forward despite efforts by Western governments to supplant it.

The U.S. is having better success blocking the rollout of Huawei’s 5G telecommunications systems, with Australia, New Zealand, and Japan among countries going along with a ban. “All this is leading to a pretty contested environment and a growing sense of heading toward an us-vs.-them mentality,” says Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. “It’s risky to go back to the Cold War mentality.”

The U.S. recently moved to inject $60 billion into the Overseas Private Investment Corp. to increase funding for projects in the developing world to counter China’s spending. And on Dec. 13, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton announced a new strategy for Africa to fund infrastructure projects, saying that Chinese influence has put the continent at risk. The U.S. is the largest donor to Africa, but most of its money goes toward health, agriculture, and clean-water projects. Bolton said the U.S. will try to ramp up funding for other projects. He cited Zambia as being particularly at risk.

To activists like Chifire who have suffered or fled the country, the China model appears ascendant. “What is remaining about democracy in Zambia,” he says on a phone call from a location he wouldn’t disclose, “is the name.” —With Taonga Clifford Mitimingi, Kamlesh Bhuckory, Matthew Hill, and Yuan Gao

Malaysia examining whether China offered to bail out 1MDB

January 8, 2019

Malaysia is looking into allegations that China offered to help deter probes into 1MDB in exchange for infrastructure projects, after the Wall Street Journal reported that senior Chinese leaders offered to help bail out the troubled state fund in 2016.

Image result for Najib Razak, malaysia, photos

The government is unaware of the discussions detailed in the Journal report, which cited minutes from meetings the newspaper reviewed, and is examining the matter, said Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.

The cost of China-backed projects was certainly enlarged and Malaysia will check whether that was due to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) links, Mr Lim said near Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday (Jan 8).

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Jho Low, a central figure in a multibillion-dollar scandal at a Malaysian development fund. A now-suspended Chinese ‘Belt and Road’ project in Malaysia might have partially bailed out the fund’s debts. Malaysian officials certainly knew of his extravagant life style, the expensive yacht, Equanimity and money spending. PHOTO: KRISTIN CALLAHAN/ZUMA PRESS

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Image result for Jho Low, pictures
 “Billionaire” Jho Low Threw Insane Parties for Celebs

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Kimora Lee Simmons and Tim Leissner enjoy the high life in Beverly Hills California. Tim Leissner  was involved in 1MDB while working for Goldman (Getty )

“But I have to refer back to see if there are details or thing explicitly said,” he said. “If this is said, this is something we will pursue.”

Chinese officials told visiting Malaysians that China would use its influence to try and get the United States and other countries to drop probes of allegations that allies of then Prime Minister Najib Razak and others plundered the fund, according to the newspaper.

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Yacht Equanimity

In return, Malaysia offered stakes in railway and pipeline projects as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The Chinese government information office did not respond to requests for comment, the WSJ said, adding that China’s Foreign Ministry had earlier denied that money in the programme was used to help bail out the 1MDB fund.

1MDB is at the centre of a global scandal involving claims of embezzlement and money laundering, with jurisdictions from the US, Malaysia and Singapore probing cases related to the fund. Najib has been charged with dozens of counts of corruption, criminal breach of trust and money laundering involving 1MDB-related monies.

He also stands accused of altering the report on a government audit into the fund to protect himself from criminal, civil or regulatory action. He has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to all charges.

China also offered to bug the homes and offices of Wall Street Journal reporters in Hong Kong who were investigating 1MDB, to learn who was leaking information to them, the newspaper said, citing the minutes of the meetings. It could not be determined whether China provided any such information, the newspaper added.



Nigerian army raids newspaper over Boko Haram article — Can’t silence the enemy but can silence the media

January 8, 2019

Nigerian soldiers raided the offices of a local newspaper and took away journalists who wrote an article that “divulged classified information” and put its troops’ lives at risk, the army said Monday.

The Daily Trust said security agents “invaded” the newspaper’s bureau in the country’s troubled northeastern region and took away two journalists who worked on a story about the military’s operations against terror group Boko Haram.
Soldiers by the gate of the Daily Trust newspaper in Abuja, Nigeria
The soldiers, seen here by the Daily Trust’s gates, stopped operations at the main office in Abuja. Photo by Daily Trust
“The soldiers shut the gate of the Maiduguri regional office, after arresting the two editorial staff on sight at the time of the raid,” the newspaper said on its website.
The army has faced fierce criticism following the raid. Garba Shehu, a spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari, said on Sunday that the military had been ordered to leave the newspaper’s premises and that differences should be worked out through dialogue.
The army said it did not arrest the journalists but “invited” them to discuss the security implications of the article.
“We would like to state that the invitation of those involved in divulging military plans was done with the best intention in order to make them realise the import of such acts to our national security,” army spokesman Gen. Sani Usman said in a statement on Facebook.
The publication contained sensitive information that disclosed plans to counter the terrorist activities in Nigeria’s troubled northeast, he added.
Nigeria’s main opposition party has seized the opportunity to score campaign points against Buhari and called the raid “an attack on freedom of the press.”
“Soldiers should not be used to target law-abiding citizens,” a spokesman for opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar said in a statement.
Military bases have come under intense attack from Boko Haram militants in recent months with reports of large numbers of army casualties. The army’s leadership often denies these reports.
In November, it was forced to admit that 44 soldiers died in an attack on its military base in Metele village, Borno.
Insurgents have also reportedly reclaimed Baga, a village on the outskirts of Maiduguri and hundreds of residents, including the village head, have fled their homes.
BBC News

‘Computers seized’

Daily Trust editor-in-chief Mannir Dan-Ali said the raids on the newspaper’s offices in Maiduguri and the capital, Abuja, were “unlawful”.

The soldiers sent away staff from the offices and ransacked the newsroom and carted away dozens of computers, he added in statement.

Soldiers in Abuja, Nigeria
Soldiers have been fighting Boko Haram militants since 2009. AFP

Witnesses told the BBC the soldiers then ordered staff to hand over all computers and laptops and had taken over control of the Abuja office.

Dan-Ali said the regional editor in Maiduguri, Uthman Abubakar, and reporter Ibrahim Sawab, were still being held.

Boko Haram insurgents, who have caused havoc in north-eastern Nigeria since 2009, are fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state.

According to the Daily Trust, a well respected daily paper, the soldiers forced open the gates of its head office in Abuja and drove in with three vans loaded with armed soldiers.

Last week, witnesses told the BBC that militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) group had hoisted their flag in the fishing town of Baga, causing hundreds of people to flee.

baga map

The militants from Islamic State’s West Africa Province (Iswap), a Boko Haram offshoot, seized weapons from a military base, and torched a naval base on the shores of Lake Chad, they said.

In the Daily Trust’s article it said that an offensive was being planned to retake control of Baga and the towns of Doron-Baga, Kross Kawwa, Bunduran, Kekeno and Kukawa that had also recently been captured by Iswap.

Correspondents say the military is sensitive to criticism and often refuses to admit to failures in its battle to defeat the insurgents.

Presentational grey line

More on the Boko Haram insurgency:

Presentational grey line

In November it took nearly a week for the army to acknowledge that its base in Metele had been overrun by militants.

There has been an escalation of attacks by the militants in the run-up to elections next month.

President Muhammdu Buhari, who is seeking a second term, took office in 2015 with a promise to defeat the militants.

While the army has retaken most of the territory the militants once controlled, they remain capable of carrying out deadly attacks.


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© AFP/File | Burkina Faso is on the front line of the jihadist revolt in the Sahel, with gunmen launching coordinated attacks in March on the French embassy, cultural centre and the Burkinabe military headquarters in Ouagadougou

Cartoon - Buhari fighting Boko Haram (DW)

Image result for Abubakar Shekau, pictures
Displaced people stare at the aftermath of a Boko Haram attack in Nigeria (picture-alliance/AP/Jossy Ola)
Boko Haram did not spare this camp for the internally displaced in Maiduguri


Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari (Getty Images/AFP/A. Marte)
President Muhammadu Buhari
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