Thursday, October 19, 2017

Former Trump Hotel Partner Charged In Brasil Olympic Bribery Case

RIO DE JANEIRO — Federal prosecutors in Brazil on Wednesday charged a Brazilian partner in the former Trump Hotel Rio de Janeiro with paying bribes to propel the city’s bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.
The businessman, Arthur César de Menezes Soares Filho, is a fugitive in the United States, according to Brazilian prosecutors. They expressed frustration over what they characterized as Washington’s reluctance to help in the investigation, contending that American officials did not extradite him, freeze his bank accounts or search his Miami residence as part of an international attempt to bring him to justice.
The 157-page criminal complaint made public on Wednesday charts what prosecutors called a “win-win” kickback scheme masterminded by a powerful trio: the former Rio de Janeiro governor, Sérgio Cabral; the recently-ousted head of Brazil’s Olympic Committee, Carlos Arthur Nuzman; and Mr. Soares, who ran several companies that were awarded multimillion government contracts.
The complaint does not suggest that anyone in the Trump Organization was involved in, or aware of, the kickback scheme. The Trump Organization pulled out of the project last December, soon after the hotel came under scrutiny in a separate criminal investigation involving investments by public pension fund managers.
The Trump Organization on Wednesday declined to comment on the record to questions submitted by email about its relationship with Mr. Soares and whether it had been contacted by investigators.
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According to the charging document in the Olympic bribery case, Mr. Soares, a longtime associate of the former Rio governor, was the source of at least $2 million in bribes paid to Lamine Diack, the former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations who had a vote in the selection of the 2016 Summer Games.
Mr. Diack and his son, Papa Massata Diack — who is accused of acting as the conduit for the bribes — are also defendants in the case unveiled on Wednesday.
Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro say there is much they still don’t know about the scope of the bribery scheme, including whether other people who had a vote in Rio’s selection received bribes.
But they expressed disappointment that Mr. Soares, who owns a luxurious seaside villa in Miami, remains at large. They said American law enforcement officials dragged their feet on Brazil’s request to freeze his bank accounts and search his home on Sept. 5, when the investigation, known as Operation Unfair Play, was publicly disclosed.
That morning, shortly after dawn, investigators in Brazil served search warrants at Mr. Nuzman’s home and at the Olympic committee office in Rio. Simultaneously, French investigators served a search warrant at a Paris apartment that belongs to Mr. Soares.
Brazilian and French investigators had been working jointly since March. Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro had already been looking into Mr. Soares’s businesses as part of corruption inquiries into the Cabral governorship. Mr. Cabral was sentenced to 45 years in prison last month in a separate corruption case.
Mr. Nuzman, the former head of Brazil’s Olympic Committee, has denied wrongdoing. Efforts to reach Mr. Soares in Miami in recent days have been unsuccessful.
The possibility that Rio’s selection to host the Games was tainted by bribery made the case a priority for prosecutors in Brazil, who are juggling dozens of high-profile graft cases involving prominent politicians and businessmen.
“It was an international case and we assumed the whole world would have an interest in it,” Eduardo El Hage, the lead prosecutor in the Rio de Janeiro federal anticorruption task force, said in an interview.
Carlos Nuzman, the president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, was escorted by federal police officers after being taken into custody at his home, in Rio de Janeiro on Oct. 5. CreditSilvia Izquierdo/Associated Press
In mid-August, Brazilian prosecutors sent the Justice Department a request for Mr. Soares’s extradition in a 25-page affidavit that laid out their case against him. At the time, Mr. Soares was the subject of a provisional detention order, but had not been formally charged. The affidavit, which was marked “classified,” noted that Brazil intended to serve other arrest warrants in the case on Sept. 5.
Brazilian officials said they were hopeful that the authorities in the United States would get involved. After all, Chicago was one of the cities that Rio edged out in the competition to host the Games. The American city’s bid had been championed by President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, both of whom traveled to Copenhagen on the eve of the announcement, hoping to sway committee members.
Yet, Brazilian prosecutors said they felt stonewalled by the Americans after they suggested that United States authorities freeze Mr. Soares’s bank accounts and execute a search warrant on his residence in coordination with the other raids on Sept. 5.
“It was frustrating,” said Vladimir Aras, a senior Brazilian prosecutor who until recently served as the head of international cooperation at the attorney general’s office in Brasília. “It would have been more fruitful for the collection of evidence if we had counted with the cooperation of the United States.”
Brazilian prosecutors say they fear that Mr. Soares may have shielded his assets, and potentially gone into hiding, in recent days. They consider him a flight risk because Mr. Soares had been seeking to obtain Uruguayan and Portuguese citizenship, possibly in an effort to dodge extradition.
The first official response that Brazil received from the United States government was delivered on Sept. 5 in a four-page diplomatic note submitted by the State Department.
The note said that Brazil’s request had failed to meet the evidentiary standard for extradition. It questioned the strength of some of the evidence that the Brazilians had submitted in the affidavit.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the specifics of the case.
“The United States is not a safe haven for fugitives from any nation,” Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman, said Wednesday. “We value our strong law enforcement relationship with Brazil. As a matter of policy, the department does not comment on specific extradition processes, but we are committed to working together on these matters.”
While the United States has a long history of law enforcement cooperation with countries like Brazil, tensions can arise when nations are pursuing parallel investigations with overlapping targets. Mr. Soares’s residence in South Florida, and his history of real estate transactions in the United States, could offer American prosecutors a hook by which to bring their own criminal case.
In the United States’ corruption case focused on FIFA — soccer’s global governing body, with headquarters in Switzerland — Brazil has been among the numerous countries that provided substantial help to the United States. But there have been behind-the-scenes tensions, with some countries wanting to take the lead on prosecuting their own citizens and bristling at the idea of being eclipsed by the United States in high-profile cases.
Brazilian prosecutors say the Olympic committee in Brazil paid the former Trump hotel 3.8 million Brazilian Reais — an amount currently worth roughly $1.2 million — for the use of hotel rooms during the Games. The hotel carried the Trump name, and the Trump Organization managed the property. But it did not have an equity stake in the hotel.
The 13-floor, 171-room hotel was the first Trump Hotel in South America. In a 2014 news release, President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., an executive vice president of the Trump Organization, hailed the location in the upscale Barra de Tijucaas as “the perfect mix of modernity and nature,” saying it was “poised to emerge as the heart of Rio de Janeiro.”
By the time the Games began in early August 2016, the hotel, beset by construction delays, could not deliver the number of rooms it was contractually obligated to make available for Olympic visitors. Under the contract, this should have made the hotel subject to a penalty. Yet, prosecutors say, the hotel was not penalized and got a 30 percent discount in the amount of money it returned to the Olympic Committee for failing to make the rooms ready on time.
That leniency, prosecutors say, was emblematic of a “grand accord” by the defendants to turn Olympics-related spending into opportunities for personal gain.
In the charging document, prosecutors refer to Mr. Soares as a partner in the hotel. In a statement issued on Wednesday, the hotel, now called LSH Barra Hotel, sought to minimize his role in the venture. It said he never had a formal role in the hotel and characterized him as a relatively minor stakeholder in the investment fund that bankrolled the project.
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Colombia: The FARC Peace Accord Is At Risk
THeFARCPeace Accord ISAtRisk

Argentina:One Country, Two Leaders, Two Mysteries


One Country, Two Leaders, Two Mysteries

When Irish rocker Bono met Argentine President Mauricio Macri recently, the two discussed Santiago Maldonado, an activist who went missing while campaigning against energy companies exploiting land claimed by the indigenous Mapuche people in Patagonia.
His disappearance evokes memories of the country’s dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, when dissidents were routinely arrested and never seen again. But it also shows the hazards of Macri’s push to boost the Argentine economy after years of stagnation.
“The government’s ability to ramp up investment in Vaca Muerta will be put to the test,” Michelle Carpenter, an analyst at global risk firm Verisk Maplecroft, told the Financial Times, referring to a Patagonian shale field.
The Associated Press reported that Macri promised to find out what became of Maldonado. But clearly his main priority is fixing Argentina’s struggling economy.
“We have turned a corner,” Macri said on Bloomberg Television. “Without a fixed exchange rate, without any type of price controls, we have been reducing inflation. I am more confident than ever that in 2019, we will have single-digit inflation.”
He has reason to crow.
Macri’s predecessor, ex-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, presided over one of the most chaotic periods of Argentina’s fraught history. Her conflicts with American hedge funds led to the global investment community freezing Argentina’s access to credit markets (Macri settled those issues). A web of corruption scandals threatens to put her in jail to this day, the Miami Herald noted.
Still, Kirchner is running for Senate in legislative elections Sunday, suggesting she intends to fight the allegations against her to the bitter end and remain a thorn in Macri’s side.
He has reason to be concerned. Argentines want jobs and prosperity. But many fear American-style capitalism will enrich the few at the expense of ordinary people.
“Macri’s reform initiative hopes to make Argentina more attractive to foreign investors,” wrote Stratfor. “But economic reform could also cause a political backlash that may put Macri’s possible re-election in 2019 at significant risk.”
Argentines are skeptical that Macri can change things. Bloomberg recently reported that bank deposits equal only 15 percent of gross domestic product. More than 40 percent of economic transactions are “informal.”
Recent polls illustrate the electorate’s ambivalence. Macri’s approval rating is at 46.5 percent, the highest since early 2016, according to Reuters. His “Let’s Change” coalition of political parties is expected to gain seats but not win a majority.
Kirchner is forecast to win her race despite the whiff of suspicion surrounding the mysterious murder of a prosecutor hours before he was to testify against her for covering up a high-profile terrorism investigation, the New York Times reported.
Argentina is changing. But it’s not clear by how many steps forward – or back.
One Country, Two Leaders

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

With A New President Ecuador Starts To Leave Venezuela Behind

The Cuban Missile Crisis at 55 | National Security Archive

The Cuban Missile Crisis at 55 | National Security Archive

Venezuela: Possible Voter Fraud


Facing Reality

Beleaguered Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro emerged stronger from gubernatorial elections on Sunday – at least on paper. But the electoral victory by his ruling Socialist Party has sparked allegations of fraud from the opposition and reignited street protests.
The head of Venezuela’s electoral council announced late Sundaythat candidates from Maduro’s party had won 17 of 23 state houses in contention, even though the controversial president is widely viewed as propelling the oil-rich country into its worst economic crisis in modern history, NPR reported.
Polls had predicted a major victory for the opposition, but pro-government candidates won 54 percent of the votes.
Among the irregularities cited by the opposition, the government relocated 200 polling stations at the eleventh hour, forcing hundreds of thousands to take long taxi or bus rides to vote. The opposition said Monday it would not recognize the results.
“We now realize that we live in a dictatorship,” one opposition candidate said.