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Trump, Giuliani loom large over ex-pal Lev Parnas’ NYC federal trial starting this week

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NEW YORK — Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani are not on trial, but their names will likely feature prominently in Manhattan Federal Court as their former associate Lev Parnas faces a jury of his peers beginning Tuesday.

Parnas, a Soviet-born businessman and onetime Republican fundraiser, is charged with orchestrating two complex campaign finance schemes, one of which overlapped with Trump and Giuliani’s 2019 quest to find political dirt on then-presidential candidate Joe Biden in Ukraine.

The Parnas trial is expected to include so many references to Trump and Giuliani that Judge Paul Oetken said last week that he will quiz prospective jurors on their political beliefs to weed out any candidates with strong views about the divisive ex-president and former New York City mayor.

Joseph Bondy, Parnas’ lawyer, launched an unusual publicity tour roughly two years ago portraying his client as a whistleblower being prevented from telling the truth about corruption in the Trump administration.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, are likely to portray him as a run of the mill fraudster who shared photos with Trump and Giuliani to make himself look like a bigshot.

Jury selection is set to start Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors will then present their convoluted case against Parnas and his co-defendant Andrey Kukushkin, both of whom have pleaded not guilty.

The feds say Parnas, 49, and his former co-defendant, Igor Fruman, made unlawful political donations to two pro-Trump super PACs and former Republican Texas Rep. Pete Sessions in 2018, totaling more than $350,000.

Fruman pleaded guilty to an unrelated charge last month to avoid trial.

Around the time of the donations, Parnas and Fruman were working for Giuliani and Trump, who wanted then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch ousted because she was refusing to help unearth compromising information in Ukraine about Biden, Trump’s Democratic challenger in the 2020 presidential election.

Trump’s eventual axing of Yovanovitch in May 2019 became a key aspect of his first impeachment on charges that he tried to pressure Ukraine’s government into helping him cheat in the 2020 election. Parnas’ trial could shed more light on that shady chapter in American history, though prosecutors have vowed to avoid the Yovanovitch allegations to “streamline” the case.

The trial could also raise issues for Giuliani, who remains under investigation by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office over scrutiny that some of his own activities in Ukraine violated foreign lobbying laws. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing and said he knew nothing about Parnas’s alleged wrongdoing.

Alongside the dizzying Ukraine saga, Parnas faces a separate set of charges that he, Fruman and another associate, David Correia, funneled cash from Russian investor Andrei Muraviev to U.S. politicians in several states in a bid to secure licenses for selling recreational marijuana.

Like Fruman, Correia will avoid trial because he pleaded guilty to charges associated with the alleged weed plot. He’s serving one year behind bars.

Kukushkin, a California businessman who will appear alongside Parnas in Manhattan Federal Court this week, is accused of serving as Muraviev’s intermediary to Parnas, Fruman and Correia.

In consultation with Kukushkin, Parnas, Fruman and Correia doled out Muraviev’s cash to American politicians without disclosing the Russian was the source — a violation of laws barring campaign contributions from foreigners, according to prosecutors.

While both Kukushkin and Parnas maintain their innocence, they have wildly different explanations for why the failed cannabis venture didn’t break the law.

Parnas’ has sought to cast doubt over prosecutors’ claim that the donations actually came from Muraviev.

Kukushkin, meanwhile, has claimed Parnas and Fruman deceived him about where the money was going.

“Parnas and Fruman only pretended to be interested in pursuing a joint cannabis venture,” Kukushkin’s attorneys wrote in court papers last month. “It was their sole intention to use Mr. Muraviev’s money to pay their debts, fund their own separate business, promote their own personal interests, support their lifestyle and sustain themselves until they could find another victim. And that is exactly what occurred.”

Though the pot portion of the trial is not expected to focus heavily on Trump or Giuliani, prosecutors will hear testimony from ex-Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt — a major Trump ally who allegedly received some of Muraviev’s money.

In discussing the breadth of evidence expected at the trial, Oetken admitted at last week’s hearing that he was stunned.

“I’ve never had a trial quite like this,” said Oetken, who has been on the bench since 2011.

_____


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Angolan journalists continue to face criminal insult and defamation proceedings

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New York, June 30, 2022 – Angolan authorities should drop criminal defamation and insult investigations into journalists Escrivão José, Óscar Constantino, and Fernando Caetano and ensure that investigative journalism is not criminalized, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

The three journalists each told CPJ that they are facing ongoing legal processes over criminal defamation and insult complaints about their work.

“The spate of spurious criminal defamation cases against journalists in Angola shows that politicians and powerful figures are allergic to public scrutiny and are taking advantage of colonial-era laws to criminalize journalism,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in Johannesburg, South Africa. “Prosecutors must stop pandering to elites who want to keep citizens in the dark and should refuse to entertain such cases in line with a 2010 resolution by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights urging African Union members states to abolish criminal defamation and insult laws.”

Convictions for criminal defamation carry prison terms of up to 1.5 years and a fine set by a judge; insult convictions carry one year and a fine, according to the penal code and Nelson Custódio, a local lawyer who represents both Caetano and Constantino, and who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. CPJ has recently reported on several other criminal defamation cases against journalists in Angola.

On June 6, investigators with the police criminal investigation service in the capital, Luanda,  sent a summons to José, editor of the privately owned newspaper Hora H, and on June 13 they questioned him in relation to defamation and insult complaints filed by Bento Bento, the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) first secretary in the capital, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

Bento’s complaints stemmed from a March 29 report by Hora H’s affiliated online video outlet, in which José covered corruption allegations involving a land deal by Bento, José told CPJ. Authorities released José after classifying him as “arguido,” or a formal suspect in criminal proceedings, a necessary step to possibly being charged with a crime or arrested.

José told CPJ that Hora H had sought Bento’s comment more than a month before publishing their story.

“Instead of any reply to our questions, Bento chose to intimidate journalists by using his political weight to sue us,” José said, adding that this was the 24th criminal defamation suit he had faced over his work. He said most of those cases were unresolved, and some had closed without a formal prosecution.

CPJ called Bento and contacted him via messaging app for comment but he did not answer.  

Separately, on June 20, a judge in the province of Kwanza Sul held a hearing in criminal defamation and insult cases against Constantino, a reporter for the Catholic Church-owned broadcaster Radio Ecclésia, according to news reports and Constantino, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

That case stemmed from complaints filed by Morais António, the former president of the provincial electoral commission, over a 2020 report by the journalist about António’s resignation amid an alleged sex scandal, according to those sources. Constantino has been classified as arguido in that case since 2021, he told CPJ.

He said his court appearance in the case is scheduled for July 6, when he expects to learn whether he has been convicted. The public prosecutor had asked for the charges against Constantino to be dropped because of a lack of evidence, according to news reports and Custódio.

António told CPJ by phone that he believed Constantino “went beyond the facts in his reporting” and accused the journalist of failing to publish his reply to the allegations. Constantino told CPJ he stood by the reporting, which he said was based on António’s resignation letter.

António also filed separate criminal defamation and insult complaints against Caetano, a correspondent for the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Voice of America and the news website Club K in Kwanza Sul province, over a December 2017 report by Club K about alleged corruption in the management of the provincial electoral commission, the journalist told CPJ by phone. Caetano said he was notified of his status as arguido in the case in November 2021.

That 2017 report was published under someone else’s byline, and featured a photograph that was later reused in an unrelated report written by Caetano in December 2019, Caetano told CPJ. He said he was not the author of the 2017 report and had “no say” in the photo in the 2019 article, adding, “This is a good example of how easily journalists can get sued in Angola for next to no reason.”

António told CPJ that Caetano must prove that he was not the author of the 2017 report, as the photograph was the same and Caetano was the only Club K reporter in the province.

“If it is not him so who is it?” António said, noting that the 2017 article alleged that he had embezzled money.

Caetano had his first court hearing in that case in March, according to Custódio. The case was adjourned and a date for the next hearing had not been set by June 29, Custódio said.

Kwanza Sul public prosecutor Mário Sacuiema told CPJ in a phone interview that he could not comment on Constantino or Caetano’s cases, and confirmed that a date for Caetano’s next court hearing had not been set.


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CCOs and Execution of Compliance Certification: A Significant Risk? (Part III of III)

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CCOs, by definition, are careful and deliberate.  It comes with the profession.  As risk managers, CCOs are skilled in identifying, assessing and acting in a risk environment.

The impact of the new CCO certification requirement, however, presents serious risks that cannot be brushed off or ignored in the face of assurances that prosecutorial discretion will protect CCOs from misguided prosecutions.  Frankly, CCOs recognize that there is too much at stake, including their careers and their liberty interest. 

DOJ’s new requirement was designed and rolled out in good faith, in an attempt to bolster the standing of CCOs in the corporate governance landscape.  To address the potential negative reaction to the certification requirement, DOJ included an important provision in its Glencore FCPA plea agreement.

As set out by DOJ, a CEO and CCO would be required to execute the form Certification thirty (30) days prior to the end of the Independent Compliance Monitor’s Term, which in the case of Glencore is a three-year term.  Paragraph 10 of the Plea Agreement sets out the following important language:

Where necessary and appropriate, the Defendant will adopt new or modify existing internal controls, compliance policies, and procedures in order to ensure that the Defendant maintains: (a) an effective system of internal accounting controls designed to ensure the making and keeping of fair and accurate books, records, and accounts; and (b) a rigorous anti-corruption compliance program that incorporates relevant internal accounting controls, as well as policies and procedures designed to effectively detect and deter violations of the FCPA and other applicable anti-corruption laws. The compliance program, including the internal accounting controls system, will include, but not be limited to, the minimum elements set forth in Attachment C. The Office[r]s, in their sole discretion, may consider the Monitor’s certification decision in assessing the Defendant’s compliance program and the state of its internal accounting controls.

DOJ’s last sentence in Paragraph 10 contemplates that the CEO and CCO may, in their discretion, may consider the Independent Compliance Monitor’s certification, in reaching their own determination as to the state of the Company’s compliance program. 

Another significant consideration is the language of the CEO and CCO certification itself — which states that “such anti-corruption compliance program is reasonably designed (emphasis added) to detect and prevent violations of the [FCPA] and other anti-corruption laws throughout the company’s operations.”

In effect, CEOs and CCOs  can rely on the Independent Compliance Monitor’s certification and the limitation on its certification that the compliance program is “reasonably designed” to detect and prevent violations of the FCPA.

Even with these positive factors, however, CEOs and CCOs will need to design and implement an appropriate procedure to document their respective due diligence and analysis of the Company’s compliance program.  This consideration, at first glance, appears to be straight-forward but could quickly unravel into difficult issues.

A CCO should be able to rely on and document any internal and external reports, assessments, and reviews of the Company’s compliance program conducted as part of the remediation effort.  DOJ clearly contemplates that a Company’s compliance program over a three-year monitorship period will undergo significant change and improvement.  By definition,  a CCO will be intimately involved in this process.

The CCO’s ability to rely on these reports, assessments and reviews may require a personal review and evaluation to justify such reliance.  CCOs need to evaluate when a further examination of a specific report may be warranted.  In this situation, a CCO may have to devote and document follow-ups to specific issues flagged in the report, assessment and review.  CCO will inevitablye face difficult situations where reliance on a report may not be completely justifiable.

A further complication may arise when a Company subjects its compliance program to a robust testing and evaluation by an outside party.  in these circumstances, an independent test of an enhanced compliance program may require a CCO to review the test results carefully with a questioning eye.  This process may, in turn, delay the CCO’s certification or even raise further issues requiring analysis and review.

The risks presented by even these obvious situations are even more troublesome given the legal risks posed by acknowledgement that a “false” certification would constitute a violation of the False Statements and Obstruction of Justice criminal statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§1001, and 1519, respectively.  By conceding the issues of “materiality” under 18 U.S.C. §1001, and “tangible record” under 18 U.S.C. §1519, a CCO may be setting him or herself up for a criminal prosecution where the issue may not rise to a criminal violation.

CCOs have enough problems in the corporate governance world.  On balance, it is difficult to maintain that the CEO and CCO certification requirement is a net plus for CCO stature in the corporate governance landscape.

Given the controversy surrounding this issue, I fully expect there will be more discussion between the CCO community and DOJ.  After all, DOJ’s most important ally in the corporate world is the CCO — and DOJ should avoid any negative impact on such a critical ally.


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First election in Caricom this year brings change

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Grenadians this week began living under a new government following general elections late last week that saw a government which had won all 15 seats in the previous two elections suffer an electoral meltdown, losing nine of those parliamentary slots as the New National Party (NNP) heads into the opposition.

The Caribbean Community’s first major elections for this year mean that attorney Dickon Mitchell, 44, has been sworn in as Grenada’s new prime minister replacing long-serving Keith Mitchell—no known relation—after becoming party leader just last October.

Clearly tired and worn out by Mitchell and the NNP, Grenadians decided to give the fresh-faced attorney and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) a chance to run the mini archipelago that also includes Carriacou and Petite Martinique for the next five years.

Keith Mitchell and Mia Mottley of nearby Barbados were the only two leaders in the 15-nation bloc whose governing parties had held every single parliamentary seat and had run their countries largely without any opposition in an atmosphere of peace. In the case of Grenada, Mitchell had done it three times in the past 20 years but voters say they have had enough of nepotism, corruption, a weak economy and other problems besetting the country.

Dickon Mitchell was sworn in at the weekend as the nation’s ninth prime minister and immediately warned about a possible purge of the public service of hundreds of political appointees.

“Under my leadership I intend to break that vicious cycle of nepotism. The key criteria will be merit in particular as it relates to the government service in all aspects including the police, nurses, teachers and doctors. We need to run our country based on merit, hard work, the desire and willingness to overcome and to find solutions to the challenges that face us. We will not move forward or prosper as a people on the sole basis for job selection, promotion, for the award of contracts on party loyalty or personal loyalty,” he told a weekend forum.


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