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Authors Posts by Diana Jean Schemo

Diana Jean Schemo

Diana Jean Schemo
277 POSTS 2 COMMENTS
Diana Jean Schemo is co-founding executive editor of 100Reporters and an award-winning former foreign, national and cultural correspondent for The New York Times and the Baltimore Sun.

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Former state Senator Pedro Espada Jr., convicted Monday of stealing more than $500,000 from a Bronx health clinic. / REUTERS

He dined on lobster, splurged on spa treatments and ordered up a luxury sport-utility vehicle. On Monday, the bill came due for former State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr.: guilty on four counts.

Espada, an Albany power-broker, was convicted of embezzling more than $500,000 from Soundview Health Center, a not-for-profit health clinic he founded in 1978, that grew into a network of clinics. The money went for everything from that $60,000 SUV to a $1.09 pack of chewing gum, the New York Daily News reported. (The New York Times tallies Espada’s haul on the charges for which he was convicted at $448,000.)

The News nicknamed Espada the “piggy pol,” noting that under the terms of his agreement with Soundview, Espada continues to collect his $300,000-a-year salary. He also stands to enjoy a golden parachute that could top $10 million. Patients at the clinic expressed outrage.

The jury deliberated for 11 days, with reported outbursts of bickering and name-calling. The panel deadlocked on four more counts of theft, fraud and conspiracy against the former senator, and on a raft of similar charges against his son, Pedro Gautier Espada. The judge declared a mistrial on those counts.

Sweep to Ex-state Sen. Pedro Espada convicted of stealing from Bronx health clinic

Will the last honest person in Columbus, New Mexico, turn out the lights?

This small town on the border with Mexico, population 2,000, has seen its mayor, police chief, a city trustee and nine other public officials arrested in a conspiracy to sell weapons to drug cartels over the border.

And it is not alone. The Los Angeles Times reports that towns on the U.S. side of the border appear to be a lifeline supplying illicit weapons to the drug gangs that terrorize much of northern Mexico. A dozen public officials are under investigation in Sunland Park, New Mexico, in connection with gun running or drug trafficking over the border, and some 130 U.S. Border Patrol agents have been arrested since 2004. Another 600 are under investigation.

“Unfortunately, the border is just one vast conspiracy,” the Times quotes the attorney for Columbus’s former mayor, Eddie Espinoza, as saying.

Sweep to Corruption flows freely along U.S.-Mexico border 

Some 100 properties at home and abroad, an airline that turned with $15,000 in capital into $1.6 million in a single year: these are some of the alleged spoils that Adolphe Muzito, the former prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is accused of having amassed at public expense.

Investigators in Kinshasa have confirmed that they are looking into the source of Muzito’s wealth, following accusations from a former fellow lawmaker, Gerard Gecoco Mulumba, the Voice of America is reporting.

Mulumba had given up his own seat in Parliament, saying he could not bear to sit with a man who had so ravaged his country. He contended that the airline, Technafrique, became a conduit for money laundering.

This is not the first time that Muzito’s management has prompted scrutiny, the VOA reports. In 2009, he lost the right to authorize government purchases, after he was caught buying a fleet of SUVs at public expense for his personal use.

Sweep to Congo Police Investigate Former PM for Corruption

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Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev.

As the parliament of Azerbaijan debated opening its territory to foreign gold mining companies several years ago, one mysterious consortium had a lock on the rights to prospect for gold in that small nation in the southern Caucasus.

The consortium, AIMROC (Azerbaijan International Mineral Resources Operating Co. Ltd.) was created solely to bid on the contract, and its parties had no experience mining gold. But it had something else, according to a new report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project: the two daughters of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev had important financial stakes in the companies.

The OCCRP report traces the consortium members to shell companies registered in Panama, which list the president’s daughters Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva as managers.

This is the second report showing how the Azerbaijan’s president is using family members to create a secret business empire, thanks to his hold on government coffers.  The Aliyeva sisters are also listed as managers in a Panamanian front company for Azerfon, which has a monopoly on high-speed Internet connections in Azerbaijan, the OCCRP has reported.

Sweep to Azerbaijan president awarded family stake in gold fields

A South Texas district attorney running for a seat in the U.S. Congress was arrested with his former law partner Monday, accused of taking more than $100,000 in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for fixing court cases.

The arrests were part of a growing federal investigation into the criminal justice system of Brownsville, where key figures appear to have turned the public trust into personal business empires. So far, a judge, a bailiff, lawyers and a former state legislator have faced charges in the years-long investigation.

The 12-count indictment issued Monday accuses Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos of extorting bribes from attorneys in exchange for “favorable acts of prosecutorial discretion, including but not limited to minimizing charging decisions, pretrial diversion agreements, agreements on probationary matters and case dismissals.”

Villalobos and his former partner, Eduardo “Eddie” Lucio, were also charged with two counts of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the Houston Chronicle reports.

In one case, Villalobos is accused of giving the confessed killer of a schoolteacher 60 days to get his affairs in order before reporting for prison. The killer fled, forfeiting his $500,000 bond, which was then divvied up to pay for a civil judgment–with Villalobos pocketing $80,000 on the deal.

Villalobos and Lucio both said they are innocent and vowed to fight the charges.

Sweep to South Texas DA indiced in bribery, kickback scheme

A recent post on Chris Morgan Jones’ blog   pondered whether, from a purely financial point of view, Wal-Mart came out ahead in Mexico, where it allegedly bribed a raft of local officials to fast-track the discount giant’s expansion starting in 2003. After all, the company’s Mexico operation made about $12 billion in profits over that time, and its likely liability through prosecution will run $4 billion to $10 billion, if the past is any guide, Jones wrote.

But that calculation might change in the minds of Wal-Mart’s directors and executives, thanks to a new lawsuit by a pension fund heavyweight, the California State Teachers Retirement System, which owns 5.3 million shares of Wal-Mart.

The suit names 27 current and former Wal-Mart executives and directors, whose failure to put an end to the alleged bribery have exposed Wal-Mart, the suit says, to heightened scrutiny from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice, and to “hundreds of millions of dollars in liability” under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The suit asks for the court-ordered removal of Wal-Mart’s board of directors, and that any damages recovered in the action be plowed back into the company.

Last week, Jack Ehnes, CEO of the California pension system, called the scandal, “The Fortune 100 version of Watergate.”

Discount giant, meet shareholder giant.

Sweep to California pension fund sues Wal-mart following bribery allegations

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A Swedish investigative news program airing this week reports that IKEA used political prisoners from East Germany as slave labor. / REUTERS

IKEA, the Swedish megastore whose knock-down furniture and housewares have made it the largest home furniture retailer in the world, used East German political prisoners as slave labor, a Swedish investigative news show is reporting.

According to the Telegraph, the news show, Mission: Investigate, has dug into the Stasi files and discovered that an IKEA factory in Waldheim, East Germany, used slave labor from a prison next door. The reports are in line with earlier reports   from the German television station, WDR, which found the company used slave labor to build sofas.

The Stasi files quoted IKEA’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, as saying that he had “no official knowledge” that his factory had used slave labor, but that if it had, “in the opinion of Ikea it would be in society’s interests.” In a statement, the company said that it had no records of using slave labor in East Germany, but regretted if it had done so.

In 1942, Kamprad, then 16, had joined Sweden’s pro-fascist New Swedish Movement. He founded IKEA a year later. Upon opening the first IKEA in Israel in the 1990s, Kamprad called his membership in the movement “the greatest mistake of my life.”

Sweep to IKEA “used East German prisoners as forced labor”

U.S. authorities are investigating the former treasurer of Mexico’s Coahuila state, and are seeking to seize some $6.5 million in his assets, on suspicion of money laundering and involvement in organized crime.

The former treasurer, Hector Javier Villareal, served as treasurer under Humberto Moreira, who was governor of Coahuila from 2005 to 2011. During that time, the state’s debt more than tripled, topping $2.6 billion.

U.S. investigators suspect Villareal of using government money to invest in property in South Texas, and they are planning to seize some $20 million in commercial and residential real estate that he purchased.

Moreira, who was named chairman of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was forced to step down over suspicions surrounding the sudden plunge in Coahuila’s state finances. Moreira is a close ally of Mexico’s leading presidential contender, Enrique Pena Nieto.

Villareal is under investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the Texas Attorney General’s office.  He is also wanted by Mexican authorities, who accuse him of falsifying documents to borrow $222 million in the state’s name, and then sending the money to family in the United States.

Sweep to DA, Feds in SA file claim to $6.5 million and a dozen high-dollar properties

More trouble for those with friends in high places . . .

The former chairman of South Korea’s Communications Commission, a mentor to President Lee Myung-bak, is under arrest, charged with influence peddling and taking bribes from a real estate developer.

The chairman, Choi See-joong, a former journalist, has admitted to accepting money from the developer, Picity Realty, but said he did not promise to influence government officials in exchange. Asked by reporters what he had spent the money on, Choi said, “I have no excuse.”

The arrest is the latest in a burgeoning scandal that is claiming close associates of President Lee.  In addition to Choi, investigators are planning to question Park Young-june, a former government vice minister, who is suspected of taking nearly $100,000 in bribes from Picity.

The allegations date back to 2005 to 2007, when Park worked in the Seoul metropolitan government under President Lee, then the city’s mayor.

Sweep to President’s Mentor Arrested for Bribery

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A worker picks tea at a plantation in Githunguri, 30 km (18 miles) from Kenya’s capital Nairobi, January 6, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

A group of nonprofit organizations has released the first-ever database of foreign investments in land deals throughout the developing world, as critics of the trade called for lifting a veil of secrecy over the way governments award rights over vast swaths of land to foreign investors.

In recent years, a virtual buying frenzy has reshaped the agricultural sector of many developing nations. Driven by the prospect of food shortages, the demand for biofuels and the market in carbon credits, foreign investors in agriculture have bought up some 200 million acres of land in developing countries, an area roughly the size of northern Europe, in recent years.

The buyers include governments like Saudi Arabia, which has bought rights to farm 761,000 acres in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, to companies planting crops for conversion to biofuels, to hedge funds that are betting demand for food and land will increase as populations grow.

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WASHINGTON, April 27 – The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives defied a White House veto threat on Friday and voted to take money from President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare overhaul to pay for an extension of low-interest federal student loans.

Democrats and Republicans have until July to find an election-year compromise. That’s when the rate is set to double on Stafford loans to 6.8 percent for more 7 million students, who represent an important voting bloc.

On a mostly party-line vote of 215-195, the House sent the measure to the Senate where Obama’s Democrats are certain to reject it.

Like Obama, Senate Democrats want to renew the low interest rate for students, but favor covering the $6 billion cost for one year by ending a tax break for the rich.

Obama cranked up pressure on Congress in recent weeks with visits to college campuses where he portrayed Republicans as unsympathetic to their plight.

House Speaker John Boehner fired back this week by accusing Obama of playing politics and manufacturing a fight. Boehner insisted that his party would find a solution.

Shortly before the WASHINGTON, April 27 (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives defied a White House veto threat on Friday and voted to take money from President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare overhaul to pay for an extension of low-interest federal student loans.

Democrats and Republicans have until July to find an election-year compromise. That’s when the rate is set to double on Stafford loans to 6.8 percent for more 7 million students, who represent an important voting bloc.

On a mostly party-line vote of 215-195, the House sent the measure to the Senate where Obama’s Democrats are certain to reject it.

Like Obama, Senate Democrats want to renew the low interest rate for students, but favor covering the $6 billion cost for one year by ending a tax break for the rich.

Obama cranked up pressure on Congress in recent weeks with visits to college campuses where he portrayed Republicans as unsympathetic to their plight.

House Speaker John Boehner fired back this week by accusing Obama of playing politics and manufacturing a fight. Boehner insisted that his party would find a solution.

Shortly before the House vote, Boehner stood on the House floor to state his view that the matter must be resolved.

“Nobody wants to see student loan interest rates go up – especially when you got recent college graduates (with) 50 percent unemployed or under employed because of the president’s economic policies.”

Despite claims to the contrary, Democrats said Republicans had little if any interest in addressing the problem until Obama made it an issue in campaign-style speeches.

“The Republicans have folded, because the president made the issue too hot to handle,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. House vote, Boehner stood on the House floor to state his view that the matter must be resolved.

“Nobody wants to see student loan interest rates go up – especially when you got recent college graduates (with) 50 percent unemployed or under employed because of the president’s economic policies.”

Despite claims to the contrary, Democrats said Republicans had little if any interest in addressing the problem until Obama made it an issue in campaign-style speeches.

“The Republicans have folded, because the president made the issue too hot to handle,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

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