Posts Tagged ‘misconduct’

McCabe: I was ‘confused’ in interview with investigators

March 25, 2018
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UN to send Congo peacekeepers home over sex abuse claims

June 20, 2017

AFP

© Pacome Pabandji, AFP | Peacekeepers with the MINUSCA force patrol the streets of Bangui on October 8, 2014

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-06-20

More than 600 troops from Congo Republic serving as UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic will be returning home following allegations of sex abuse and other misconduct, UN officials said Monday.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will announce the withdrawal Tuesday during a news conference at the United Nations, officials told AFP.

The decision follows a report by the UN commander of the MINUSCA force who warned that Brazzaville should either take steps to rein in the troops or be forced to repatriate them.

Lieutenant General Balla Keita of Senegal told UN headquarters that he had sent six letters of blame to the battalion commander already this year over alleged sexual abuse, fuel trafficking and lack of discipline.

The 629 peacekeepers deployed in Berberati, the country’s third-largest city, are Brazzaville’s only contribution to UN peacekeeping.

Last year, 120 troops from the same contingent were sent back following allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA) involving at least seven victims, six of whom were children.

But following a MINUSCA assessment of the Berberati base in March, Keita said there had been “no improvements in the behavior of the Congolese battalion.”

“The battalion is notorious for SEA misconducts, fuel trafficking and poor discipline,” Keita wrote in a memo sent last month.

“The situation has deteriorated to the point that the battalion is no longer trustable because of poor leadership, lack of discipline, and operational deficiencies,” he added.

The memo and a 66-page UN assessment of the Congolese troops were released by the Code Blue Campaign of non-governmental organizations seeking to expose cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers.

Tougher response

The 12,000-strong MINUSCA force has been plagued by a wave of sexual abuse allegations since the mission began in 2014 to help restore stability to the country.

One of Africa’s poorest countries, the Central African Republic descended into bloody sectarian fighting after the 2013 overthrow of longtime leader Francois Bozize.

Former UN chief Ban Ki-moon in 2015 took the rare step of firing the then-head of the peacekeeping force over his handling of dozens of misconduct cases, including the rape of minors.

With sex abuse cases continuing to surface, Guterres vowed to toughen up the response to the damaging allegations when he took the UN helm in January.

UN critics in the United States — many of whom are in the US Congress — have pointed to the mounting cases of misconduct by UN peacekeepers in their campaign to cut funding to UN blue helmets.

In the report to UN headquarters, the force commander said the Congolese contingent showed a “poor display of leadership and military discipline” and failed to maintain basic logistics.

He noted that the unit had only 18 vehicles that were serviceable and that 44 others were awaiting maintenance.

The assessment described the shoddy state of the Berberati camp, with no proper water supply, field toilets and little fencing to restrict access to the site by civilians.

(AFP)

Why did feds grant immunity to Hillary’s ‘highly improper’ aide?

September 24, 2016

By Paul Sperry
The New York Post

 

FBI Director James Comey
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Even so, Comey agreed to grant Mills immunity in exchange for her cooperation in the investigation. He also agreed to ground rules that left some lines of inquiry off-limits. When agents in April tried to pin her down on the procedures she used to search for Hillary’s e-mails under order, she and her lawyer stormed out of the room. So much for Comey’s cooperative witness.

Mills claimed such information was protected under “attorney-client privilege,” which is ridiculous. Mills was chief of staff for Hillary, not her lawyer, at the time Hillary was bypassing government security and squirreling away state secrets in her basement.

And even though Mills deleted the records after she left State and was supposedly acting as Hillary’s attorney then, privilege does not apply when a client seeks advice on how to commit a crime and the crime is committed.

Yet Comey’s agents abided by her claim and never pursued the line of questioning again. In effect, they gave her a pass on the whole question of the criminal obstruction behind which she looks to be the mastermind. And then, three months later, they let her sit in on Hillary’s interview even though Hillary was represented by attorney David Kendall!

Mills should be dragged before Congress to publicly answer questions the FBI refused to ask her. But she would just lie with impunity like she did in her past testimony involving other Hillary scandals.

Rather, it would be more productive to grill Comey under the klieg lights. Why did he give a key suspect who orchestrated the destruction of government records immunity as a witness? Why didn’t he demand prosecutors convene a grand jury to question Mills under oath? Was he pressured by the attorney general?

Sweating Mills could have cracked the case wide open. No one would have ever let H.R. Haldeman get away with editing the Nixon tapes. Why would the FBI director let Hillary’s chief of staff get away with deleting her e-mails?

Paul Sperry is author of “The Great American Bank Robbery,” which exposes the role of race-based Clinton housing policies in the mortgage bust.

http://nypost.com/2016/09/24/why-did-feds-grant-immunity-to-hilllarys-highly-improper-aide/

Who Deleted New York Voters From Computer Files? Now We Know. Maybe

April 22, 2016

The city’s Board of Elections suspended the top official at its Brooklyn office without pay as they probe the mysterious purge of more than 120,000 Democratic voters from the borough rolls that wreaked havoc on Tuesday presidential primaries.

The solo suspension of Diane Haslett-Rudiano from her $125,000-a-year post over widespread polling problems is raising eyebrows that extend beyond party lines.

Democrat Betty Ann Canizio, the BOE Deputy Clerk for Brooklyn, is the official primarily responsible for overseeing the borough’s Democratic voting rolls while Haslett-Rudiano, a Republican, oversees her party’s rolls, sources said.

Diane Haslett-Rudiano

“It sounds like they cut a deal to make the Republican the scapegoat and protect Betty Ann,” said an elected Brooklyn official who’s a Democrat.

Canizio is an ally of Brooklyn Democratic Chairman Frank Seddio. She has a long history as a borough district leader of rubber-stamping his candidate nominations and political appointments. Seddio used his political muscle to help Canizio, 68, secure her $120,000-a-year post, sources said.

Betty Ann Canizio. Photo: Lizzy Snaps Sullivan

BOE sources say she’s routinely absent or works half days. She failed to show up for work Thursday and wasn’t at her Bay Ridge home when visited by a Post reporter.

Canizio was also at the center of a illegal parking placard scandal that rocked her office — yet somehow avoided punishment.

Two Brooklyn elected officials told The Post Canizio bragged at a Democratic committee meeting in 2014 that she illegally gave away her city-issued parking placard to her husband so he could avoid tickets. She then recruited David Annarummo, a BOE administrative associate, to drive her to and from work as part of his duties.

Annarummo was one of the five staffers busted using fake, photocopied parking placards and slapped with fines of up to $500 by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board.

He signed a disposition last September admitting to using a “forged” permit to drive his boss to work from June to December of 2014. His statement never mentioned Canizio by name but notes “the deputy chief clerk was in the vehicle while the forged BOE parking permit was displayed in the windshield. For this reason, I believed that the heads of the BOE Brooklyn Borough Office were aware of and condoned employees’ use of the forged parking permits.”

The COIB only three weeks ago fined Sheila Del Giorno, chief clerk at the BOE’s Staten Island location, $3,500 for also grubbing car-pool rides from co-workers without compensation –which is a violation of city rules. Unlike Canizio’s free rides, none of the Staten Island workers who drove Del Giorno around from 2007 to 2015 were found using fake placards.

“It’s an utter disgrace that Betty Ann got off without even a slap on the wrist from the Conflicts of Interest Board, considering she was well aware the fake placards were being photocopied and distributed like candy at her office,” said one Brooklyn politician.

The internal investigation by BOE comes after state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and City Comptroller Scott Stringer already announced they’re investigating widespread complaints from voters at polling sites citywide during Tuesday’s primaries.

When reached by phone, Halsett-Rudiano and Canizio declined comment.

The COIB also declined comment.

BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan said “we don’t comment on personnel matters” when asked why Canizio has yet to be reprimanded.

Meanwhile, Canizio is currently snubbing election law. She is a longtime district leader representing Bensonhurst but recently moved to Bay Ridge. She plans to run for district leader in Bay Ridge in September.

http://nypost.com/2016/04/21/board-of-elections-official-scapegoated-for-voting-mess/

***********************************************

By  Yoav Gonen and Carl Campanile
   New York Post

In a pre-primary bombshell, the city’s Board of Elections was pummeled with questions Monday about how 54,000 Democratic voters vanished from the rolls in Brooklyn.

The voter rolls on April 1 showed the borough had 853,687 registered Democrats who are considered “active” because they voted at least once in the last four years.

But in November, there were 917,508, or 63,558 more.

The board said the numbers changed because many once-active voters were moved to the inactive list.

But that list grew by only 9,154 voters — from 82,807 to 91,961 — leaving 54,404 Brooklyn voters missing.

Voters on the inactive list can still cast a ballot if they live in the city.

But the “missing” voters are out of luck — their names have been stricken from the records.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was “confused” by the discrepancy and would seek an explanation.

“I’ve asked already today for an analysis of this from the Board of Elections,” the mayor said.

Bertha Lewis, director of the Black Institute, called for an investigation.

“There needs to be a probe. We know that 300K-plus have been purged without explanation,” she said.

Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander called the purge “weird” and “troubling.”

Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan said the mystery is easily explained: Because of retirements and staff illness, the voting list was not properly maintained in Brooklyn for six to eight months.

When staffers caught up with the backlog, he said, they purged voters who should have been removed earlier last year.

http://nypost.com/2016/04/19/54000-brooklyn-voters-vanish-ahead-of-primary-day/

Automaker Mitsubishi admits manipulating fuel-efficiency tests

April 20, 2016

AFP

© AFP | Mitsubishi’s Tokyo-listed shares plummeted after reports came out of the Japanese automaker’s misconduct

TOKYO (AFP) – Japanese automaker Mitsubishi on Wednesday admitted it manipulated pollution data in more than 600,000 vehicles, after reports of misconduct sent its Tokyo-listed shares plummeting earlier in the day.

“We found that with respect to the fuel consumption testing data…(the company) conducted testing improperly to present better fuel consumption rates than the actual rates,” it said in a statement released as it started a press briefing in Tokyo.

Court Appointed Guardianship or Care-Givers for Elderly and Disabled Often Turn Out To Take Advantage, Abuse, Loot

October 31, 2015

Ageing, Abuse, Allegations — Financial exploitation and abuse are rife, despite waves of overhaul efforts

Court-appointed guardians controlled much of 74-year-old Linda McDowell's life for 30 months. A judge ended the guardianship in 2014, and she now lives in her mobile home with her dog, Sam, much of her savings gone. 
Court-appointed guardians controlled much of 74-year-old Linda McDowell’s life for 30 months. A judge ended the guardianship in 2014, and she now lives in her mobile home with her dog, Sam, much of her savings gone. Photo: Stuart Isett for The Wall Street Journal

One day in March 2012, 71-year-old Linda McDowell received a knock at the door of her small Vancouver, Wash., home. Ms. McDowell needed court-appointed help, the visitor told her.

It turned out that Ms. McDowell’s former housemate and companion had pushed for a court petition claiming Ms. McDowell was unable to take care of herself. The petition said Ms. McDowell had recently made an unsafe driving maneuver, had been disruptive in a doctor’s office and, in a recent phone call, had seemed confused over the whereabouts of some personal papers.

Based on the motion, a judge ordered an attorney to act as a temporary guardian with control over Ms. McDowell’s money and medical care. Ms. McDowell was also to pay for these services.

“I was shocked,” says Ms. McDowell, who once worked as a conference manager for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration before a second career in real-estate investing. “I had never met this person, and here she was telling me I basically belonged to her.”

The visit marked the start of a 30-month stretch in Washington’s guardianship system that upended her life and drained much of her $700,000 in assets. People involved in her case still disagree about whether Ms. McDowell ever needed a guardian. But by the time a judge decided that one wasn’t necessary, the value of her assets had dropped by about $470,000, much of which was spent on several guardians and related expenses, court and bank records show.

“My savings are gone,” says Ms. McDowell, now living in a motor home near Sequim, Wash., with her dog, Sam. “They took everything.”

For decades, states have granted courts the power to appoint guardians or conservators for elderly or disabled people unable to tend to their basic needs. Most appointed guardians are family members, but judges can turn to a growing industry of professional, unrelated guardians.

The caretakers’ authority varies by case and jurisdiction, but often they are granted broad authority over a ward’s finances, medical care and living conditions. Unlike a power of attorney, which one person can grant to another and revoke at any time, guardianship is established by a judge and can only be revoked by the court.

But guardianship systems across the country are plagued by allegations of financial exploitation and abuse, despite waves of overhaul efforts. As a result, critics say, many elderly people with significant assets become ensnared in a system that seems mainly to succeed at generating billings. “These laws which were designed to protect the vulnerable are being used against them to exploit them,” says Dr. Sam Sugar, founder of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, an advocacy group.

Because guardianship systems vary by state and county and record-keeping systems are inconsistent, precise national data is unavailable. But the roughly 1.5 million adult guardianships in the U.S. involve an estimated $273 billion in assets, according to Anthony Palmieri, auditor for the guardianship fraud program in Palm Beach County, Fla.

According to a survey on guardianship conducted last year by the Administrative Conference of the United States, a federal agency, 64% of the 855 judges and staff who responded said their courts had taken action against at least one guardian for misconduct-related issues in the previous three years.

Ernestine Franks with her sons Charles, left, and Douglas, celebrating Easter in 2013. A dispute between the brothers prompted the court to name a legal guardian, who restricted the Frankses from visiting their mother. 
Ernestine Franks with her sons Charles, left, and Douglas, celebrating Easter in 2013. A dispute between the brothers prompted the court to name a legal guardian, who restricted the Frankses from visiting their mother. Photo: Douglas Franks

Guardians across the country have faced prosecution for wrongdoing in the past year. In July, Stephen Grisham, a guardian in Minneapolis, was sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay restitution of nearly $160,000 after pleading guilty to stealing from his wards. He is “a very good person who made a horrible mistake,” says his attorney, Thomas Plunkett.

The problems are more urgent as seniors cause the population of seniors nearly to double by 2050, according to Census estimates. In New Jersey, the number of adult guardianships added annually increased 21% from 2009 to 2014, to 2,689 cases.

Guardians properly supervised by courts typically do a good job protecting elderly people from exploitation by acquaintances and others, says Catherine Seal, a guardianship attorney in Colorado Springs, Colo., and president-elect of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. “The worst cases that I see are the ones where there is no guardian,” she says.

In one case Ms. Seal handled several years ago, she says an elderly woman was befriended by a neighbor who persuaded her to buy a condo and include the neighbor’s name on the title. A year later, the neighbor had the woman transfer full ownership to her and moved in to the unit. After Ms. Seal was appointed conservator, she sold the condo and recovered the investment for the elderly woman.

Expenses that arise as a result of a guardianship, including lawyers for both the guardians and wards, typically get paid from the ward’s assets. (In some jurisdictions, there is a public guardian’s office that handles cases for indigent clients.) The financial arrangement, critics say, encourages lawyers and guardians to perpetuate guardianships indefinitely.

Brothers’ dispute

Charles and Douglas Franks say that is what happened to them. As their 89-year-old mother grew increasingly frail, the brothers clashed over where she should live—close to Charles in New Orleans, as he wished, or in her own home in Pensacola, Fla., as Douglas wanted. In 2012, Charles says he followed the advice of a financial adviser and petitioned a state court in Pensacola to appoint a guardian to settle the matter.

Their mother, Ernestine Franks, had granted Douglas a power of attorney and signed advance directives designating him as her guardian if she were ever deemed incapacitated. But a probate judge nullified the power of attorney and appointed a professional guardianship company instead. “There seems to be a lot of conflict” involving the Franks brothers, said Judge Jan Shackelford in the initial proceeding, according to a transcript. A judicial assistant says Judge Shackelford couldn’t comment on pending cases.

Soon after being appointed, the guardianship company, Gulf Coast Caring Solutions in Pensacola, suspended the brothers’ visits to Ms. Franks for three weeks and later permitted them for only a few hours at a time, citing their conflict. The brothers, who have since repaired their rift, say their relationship with the guardians quickly became contentious. As a result, the judge ordered that their visits with their mother be supervised by a monitor, who charges Ms. Franks $100 an hour.

Under guardianship, withdrawals from a $1.3 million trust set up to pay Ms. Franks’s expenses jumped to $297,000 in 2014 from $94,000 in 2011, when Ms. Franks mostly made her own financial decisions, according to documentation provided by the Franks brothers. More than $75,000 in 2014 went to lawyers for Gulf Coast, which has been embroiled in litigation with the Franks brothers over issues ranging from expenses to home-care providers. The company said in a court filing this month it was resigning as guardian and recommended the appointment of a successor. A new judge overseeing the case scheduled a hearing for November.

Gulf Coast and its attorneys didn’t respond to requests for comment. In court filings, the company accuses the brothers of harassing its caregivers and of unsettling their mother with the squabbling. Gulf Coast says that from the start, the brothers have “engaged in a relentless battle against the guardian” in an attempt to get the company removed and “regain control of their mother and her finances.”

Charles Franks says initially he thought seeking a guardian would be “a good thing.” Now, he says, “I am tortured by that decision.”

Ginny Casazza, president of the National Guardianship Association, says some critics of guardians’ fees don’t realize how time-consuming some duties are, such as accompanying wards to medical appointments. Many charges billed to a ward don’t come from guardians, she says, but from other professionals like lawyers—whose hourly rates are usually much higher than those of guardians.

Ms. Casazza says fee disputes can be minimized if guardians at the outset provide an estimate of their annual fees, as the NGA recommends. She also says the current inconsistency in fees—which usually are determined by what a court finds reasonable—could be addressed by establishing fee guidelines like those created in Arizona in 2012.

Guardianship expenses are usually filed to courts for a judge’s approval annually, though some guardians submit requests for approval of fees more frequently. The accountings vary in detail, but generally they include some breakdown of costs, such as food, prescription medication and travel to medical appointments.

Some legal experts say guardianship laws aren’t well-enforced by overworked judges in underfunded courts who too often rubber-stamp expense reports filed by guardians, or don’t crack down when the documents aren’t filed on time.

 

Judges acknowledge they struggle to keep up with the rising flood of paperwork. Some, like Jean Stewart, a former probate judge in Denver, point fingers at state lawmakers who haven’t increased judicial budgets to address the problem. “It’s just plain manpower,” said Ms. Stewart, who recalled spending “many Sunday afternoons” reviewing guardianship reports.

In recent years, states have tried to stamp out abuses: From 2004 through 2014, legislatures passed a total of 292 bills addressing adult guardianship, according to the American Bar Association. Many states now screen the financial and criminal backgrounds of potential guardians and require guardians to post bonds at the outset of a guardianship to insure that a ward’s assets will stay protected.

Florida lawmakers this year added restrictions on suspending a power of attorney that a potential ward has granted a family member, and enacted a requirement that suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation by a guardian be reported to a state hotline.

And Texas passed a law this year believed to be the first in the U.S. to establish an alternative to guardianship known as “supported decision-making.” Under the model, disabled individuals voluntarily sign agreements with people who can help them make decisions on finances and other specific issues.

In 2011, the Washington state legislature added training requirements for prospective guardians and gave courts the authority to sanction a guardian if the guardian fails to file a required report or attend a hearing.

The changes weren’t enough to keep Ms. McDowell in Vancouver from a costly trip through guardianship.

In early 2012, Ms. McDowell and her longtime friend and housemate Annette Snyder were going through a difficult period in their relationship. Ms. Snyder had recently moved out of their shared home.

Petition filed

Ms. Snyder says she became concerned that an emotionally distraught Ms. McDowell would do something rash before they could settle their differences over their finances and possessions. She consulted a lawyer who suggested guardianship. Rather than file the petition under her own name and risk further stoking tensions with Ms. McDowell, Ms. Snyder asked a mutual friend to do it.

On March 8, 2012, a guardianship petition filed with the Clark County Superior Court claimed that Ms. McDowell had behaved erratically throughout much of the previous year. She recently had been admitted to a hospital for a small stroke, it alleged, but “became unjustifiably fearful, pulled out her IV, and left the hospital against medical advice.”

The court held a hearing that same day, after which Clark County Judge Scott A. Collier appointed Kathleen McCann, an attorney, to become a temporary guardian. Ms. McCann was asked to investigate and offer an opinion on whether the court should appoint a longer-term caregiver.

On May 4, Ms. McCann advised that long-term care was needed. She submitted a report from a psychologist who said that Ms. McDowell displayed paranoia and” and “impaired” reasoning ability. Ms. McCann didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Legal documents in Ms. McDowell’s case. A former housemate had pushed for a court petition claiming Ms. McDowell was unable to take care of herself. 
Legal documents in Ms. McDowell’s case. A former housemate had pushed for a court petition claiming Ms. McDowell was unable to take care of herself. Photo: Stuart Isett for The Wall Street Journal

At the May hearing, the court-appointed lawyer for Ms. McDowell, James Senescu, appeared but didn’t oppose the petition for guardianship. Ms. McDowell says she stood up and tried to object, but to no avail. “My attorney said nothing, and the hearing was over in about three minutes,” she says. Mr. Senescu declined to comment.

Stacey Bollinger of Halo Guardianship Service Inc. was appointed her new guardian and remained so for nearly two years.

The bills piled up. Ms. Bollinger billed Ms. McDowell $332.50 to take her to breakfast, $95 for a one-hour birthday visit and $47.50 for a phone call on Thanksgiving, according to Halo Guardianship invoices filed with the court. Ms. McDowell was allotted a $500 monthly allowance. Over her objections, her house was sold, effectively forcing her into an assisted-living facility.

In early 2013, Ms. McDowell enlisted lawyer MarCine Miles to help her. Ms. Miles, who says she worked pro bono because her client didn’t have the authority to pay the fees, says there are still far too few checks on the system.

Guardians “hand their bills to a court, and the court just says ‘OK,’ ” she says. Judges “never seem to ask why it took a guardian three hours to look over a bank statement.”

Calls to the Clark County Superior Court administrator, Jeffrey Amram, weren’t returned.

Months later, Ms. Miles arranged for her client to move out of assisted living into her motor home, and in March 2014, she helped Ms. McDowell get a court order appointing a new guardian who might get along with her better.

Dorine Bright of Riverside Guardian Services Inc., who ended up working with Ms. McDowell for seven months, charged her thousands of dollars for a variety of tasks, including personal visits, mail “processing” and “marshaling assets,” according to Riverside invoices filed with the court.

Steve Turner, an attorney for both Ms. Bollinger and Ms. Bright, said that some of the assets that Ms. McDowell lost were actually owned by Ms. Snyder, including her house, which was jointly owned, and divided up as part of a separation. He said working through the separation required extra lawyers’ fees. He also said that many of the meetings and phone calls billed were made to discuss the separation with Ms. Snyder and to safeguard Ms. McDowell’s interests. “There was never any evidence that either Ms. Bollinger or Ms. Bright acted improperly in any way,” he said.

Of the nearly $300,000 in total cash expenses Ms. McDowell paid during the guardianships, more than half went to professionals, including lawyers and other “caregiver services,” according to bank statements and court records. At the end of the guardianship, Ms. McDowell was left with about $25,000 in cash, in addition to her motor home and a car.

In the summer of 2014, a court—at the urging of Ms. Miles—appointed an investigator to assess the situation. In September, he issued a report citing a variety of doctors and others who over the years of guardianship had examined Ms. McDowell and had attested to her relative well-being. The report included input from a social worker who in March 2013 said that while Ms. McDowell had been “labeled with Dementia by her caretakers and the court,” he had seen no impairment in “her level of functioning” during 11 one-hour sessions.

Shortly thereafter, Judge Robert A. Lewis ended the guardianship. All told, a total of 11 people—10 judges and one commissioner—on the Clark County Superior Court made rulings in Ms. McDowell’s case. Judge Lewis declined to comment.

Ms. Snyder now says she “deeply regrets” her role in putting Ms. McDowell into guardianship. “At the time, I had no idea what guardianship actually meant, and had no idea that Lin would be taken for such a ride,” she says.

Ms. McDowell, now 74 and getting by on about $1,000 a month in Social Security and annuity payments, says that despite some health issues, she feels fine. But the time battling guardianship is “gone forever,” she says.

Write to Arian Campo-Flores at arian.campo-flores@wsj.com and Ashby Jones at ashby.jones@wsj.com

http://www.wsj.com/articles/abuse-plagues-system-of-legal-guardians-for-adults-1446225524

Xi Jinping’s anticorruption drive expected to end “gift” loophole in China

October 21, 2014

(Reuters) – China’s largely rubber stamp parliament is likely to close a loophole when it meets next week to ban officials from getting around corruption allegations by claiming money received was simply a gift, a state-run newspaper said on Tuesday.

Currently, officials can defend themselves from accusations of receiving bribes by saying money or other goods received, like luxury watches or bags, were just a present from a friend, the official China Daily reported.

It is only considered a crime if a link can be made to some sort of abuse of power, it said.

President Xi Jinping has launched a sweeping campaign against deep-seated graft since assuming office last year, warning, like others before him, that the Communist Party’s very survival is at stake.

Xi has vowed to take down high-flying “tigers” as well as lowly “flies” in an anti-graft campaign that has felled Zhou Yongkang, once the powerful domestic security tsar, as well as Jiang Jiemin, the former top regulator of state-owned firms.

The gift rules will probably be changed at a regular meeting of the National People’s Congress opening on Oct. 27, the newspaper said.

“The draft is likely to deem that accepting gifts or money of a considerable amount would be punishable for all government officials,” it added.

“The draft proposal will discuss the possibility of handing down punishment to public servants for accepting goods or money of a certain amount without a direct link to misconduct.”

The amendment is almost certain to be approved as state media generally does not flag such changes if they are not going to be passed.

Under the present system, gifts are meant to be handed over to the government within a month of being received, and some provinces have even set up special bank accounts to handle such money, the newspaper said.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

Hong Kong leader under pressure to explain Australian windfall

October 9, 2014

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Protesters gather outside the offices of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong on October 9, 2014 (AFP Photo/Ed Jones)

By Jerome Taylor

Hong Kong’s embattled leader faced growing calls Thursday to explain why he kept large payments from an Australian company secret as democracy activists behind days of mass rallies vowed a “new wave” of civil disobedience.

Parts of the vital financial hub have been paralysed for more than a week by demonstrations calling for Beijing to grant the former British colony full democracy and for the city’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign.

Under plans unveiled by China in August, Hong Kongers will be able to vote for Leung’s successor in 2017, but only two to three vetted candidates will be allowed to stand.

Although protester numbers have dwindled in recent days, small groups still control multiple barricade across the city in what has become the most concerted challenge to Beijing’s rule since Hong Kong’s handover in 1997.

Pressure intensified on Leung dramatically Thursday with opposition leaders saying he faced a “huge integrity problem” over his failure to declare payments made to him by Australian engineering company UGL.

Australia’s Fairfax Media reported Wednesday that Leung received two payments totalling HK$50 million ($6.5 million) from UGL during a deal struck in December 2011 — months before Leung took office, but a week after he announced his candidacy.

At the time UGL was purchasing the insolvent property services firm DTZ, where Leung was a director and chairman of its regional operations.

– ‘Integrity problem’ –

It agreed to pay Leung over the next two years not to compete with them, and the contract signed by him showed he agreed to act as an “adviser from time to time”.

Opposition lawmakers Thursday expressed their dismay that Leung did not declare the payments to the Hong Kong public once he became leader in July 2012.

“It boils down to a huge integrity problem,” pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told AFP. “Can you imagine Obama being a consultant of some company while being a political leader?”

Another lawmaker, Cyd Ho urged Hong Kong’s parliament to investigate the payments and called on Leung to explain himself publicly.

“He should have cut himself off all business affiliations. This time it’s a very serious case. A statement cannot explain away all the queries from the public,” she said.

The revelation comes as Chinese president Xi Jinping launches a widespread anti-graft crackdown and austerity drive targeting party officials.

Leung has yet to comment publicly on the affair but his office has said he was under no legal obligation to declare the earnings.

In statements to the media, Leung’s office said he “has not provided any service to UGL after signing the above agreement” and would only have stayed on as an advisor had he lost his election bid.

UGL said its payments to Leung were staggered after he took office to ensure his “non-compete and non-poach” obligations were met.

The furore comes as student leaders pushing for greater democratic rights are due to meet Leung’s deputy Carrie Lam on Friday for crunch talks.

However Occupy Central, one of the main protest networks, said Thursday afternoon a “new wave of civil disobedience” would be announced by all groups involved, raising doubts over whether the talks will go ahead. They are due to hold a press conference at 5pm (0900 GMT).

One pro-democracy lawmaker said on his Facebook account his colleagues in the city’s parliament had decided to block any attempts by the government to make new appointments or initiate public works.

“We will use this power we have to support the students’ determination,” Lee Cheuk-yan he wrote.

Until now the city’s pro-democracy lawmakers have largely taken a back seat during the protests, providing moral support but no direct action in the city’s legislature.

Related Stories

Australian Firm That Paid $6.4 Million to Hong Kong Chief Executive Defends Action

October 9, 2014

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Hong Kong's Chief Executive CY Leung listens to a question at a press conference on political reform

CY Leung is facing mass demonstrations by pro-democracy activists who see him as Beijing’s man

The Australian firm at the centre of a storm over an multimillion-dollar payout to Leung Chun-ying has just released a statement. Leung, who worked with the firm before he became Hong Kong’s chief executive, allegedly failed to disclose a HK$50 million payment in the past two years from engineering company UGL Limited. The leader is facing questions over possible misconduct in relation to the contract.

However, in an October 9 statement, UGL defended both the deal and the decision not to declare it. It said the contract was a normal business arrangement, made after it acquired in December 2011 the subsidiaries of Leung’s former employer, DTZ Holdings.

UGL said the payment to Leung was made in relation to “non-compete, non-poach and DTZ senior management retention provisions” after it acquired subsidiaries of DTZ. Leung founded DTZ’s North Asia business and used to serve as its CEO, before he resigned in November 2011, according to UGL.

“Such agreements are common confidential commercial arrangements when a business is being acquired. The only difference here being Mr Leung went on nearly six months later to become the Chief Executive of Hong Kong,” the Australian firm said in the statement.

It insisted that the agreement with and payment to Leung were necessary for commercial reasons, and that it was under “no obligation, legal or otherwise, to disclose the agreement”.

“It should be noted that at the time of entering in the agreement, Mr Leung was not an elected official of Hong Kong, and UGL had no reason to expect that his campaign for Chief Executive of Hong Kong would be successful,”  UGL said.

Stay tuned to SCMP.com for the full story.

UGL also said that the deal with Leung covered only the two years after UGL’s acquisition of DTZ subsidiaries.

In those two years and afterwards, “UGL did not request Mr Leung to undertake any task whatsoever on our behalf, nor did Mr Leung offer to perform any tasks. Our only concern was to see the non-poach and non-compete enforced and the value of the acquisition protected, which it was,” it said.

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1612602/live-democracy-advocates-urge-unity-occupy-movement-enters-12th-day

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Widespread Corruption, Misconduct in Vietnam’s Health System, Hospitals

October 11, 2013

Photo: Patients at the Ho Chi Minh City Traumatology and Orthopedics Hospital. By Thanh Tung

Ho Chi Minh City health inspectors have exposed longstanding misconduct at two major hospitals that has cost patients billions of dong.

The HCMC Health Department announced Monday (October 7) that investigations at Binh Dan Hospital and the HCMC Traumatology and Orthopedics Hospital had found “a series of wrongdoings” at both establishments.

The investigations started last May after the department received written complaints from doctors at the hospitals and following a Vietweek exposé last year.

Total losses caused by the wrongdoings have yet to be reckoned, but inspectors estimated that the losses are worth billions of dongs.

According to inspectors, around 70 percent of surgeries performed at the HCMC Traumatology and Orthopedics Hospital between 2010 and 2012 were “service surgeries,” and the rest were “schedule surgeries.”

“Schedule surgeries” refers to surgeries arranged according to the hospital’s schedule and conducted during working hours, which cost less, and “service surgeries” means that patients pay more so that they will not have to wait in a long line for their turn to undergo a surgery.

Normally, service surgeries are allowed if they are performed after the hospitals’ set working hours (usually after 5 p.m.).

However, inspectors found that doctors at the HCMC Traumatology and Orthopedics Hospital spend most of their time performing service surgeries.

These service surgeries are conducted during working hours from Monday to Friday, which means the doctors are stealing time and facilities for their own profit, inspectors said.

Of the nine doctors that performed the most service surgeries, two are deputy directors of the hospital, according to inspectors.

They also found violations at the hospital relating to X-rays. Accordingly, a number of doctors connived with technicians to use small-size films for patients but then charge them the price of large-size films, and take more than one X-ray on a single frame of film and then charge patients the price of more than one frame.

Inspectors estimated that doctors and technicians pocketed around VND3.3 billion (US$156,400) from such X-ray film violations.

Meanwhile, violations at Binh Dan Hospital were mostly conducted by its former director, Nguyen Chi Hung, and some of his subordinates.

According to inspectors, the hospital’s management board willingly allowed overseas trips by its staff using funds from the State budget; more than 70 percent of its officials have taken overseas trips without the approval of the Health Department and the municipal People’s Committee.

Under Hung’s management, the hospital wasted around VND1.7 billion ($80,500) purchasing medical equipment, most of which hasn’t been used at all.

Hung and his accomplices illegally signed contracts with outside companies and individuals to buy expensive medical equipment and open drug stores, and then pocketed the “commissions” from the contracts, inspectors said.

Inspectors also established that from 2009 to 2012, the hospital illegally connived with several private companies to offer test and scanning services using medical equipment owned by the companies.

Many doctors were encouraged to offer scanning services for patients even when it was not necessary. Each doctor who asked patients to use the ultrasound and X-ray services earned VND40,000-50,000/patient ($1.9-2.3).

Hung, who retired recently, and four others, including two deputy directors and the chief accountant of the hospital, shared more than VND3 billion ($142,200) earned from the activity.

The HCMC Health Department has ordered the hospital to seize the money and submit it to the department.

Inspectors also found that the hospital signed work contracts with six doctors and pharmacists who are not qualified enough for the job.

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By Thanh Tung, Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the October 11th issue of our print edition Vietweek)