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Former Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez Arrested on Bribery Charges

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The FBI has arrested former Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez over her alleged involvement in a bribery scheme to finance her 2020 gubernatorial campaign. Vázquez is accused of accepting bribes in 2019 and 2020, while she was governor, from several people, including Julio Martín Herrera Velutini, a banker who was under investigation by the agency that oversees Puerto Rico’s financial institutions. In exchange for the donations, Vázquez reportedly demanded the resignation of the agency’s director and later appointed a new one — a former consultant of Herrera’s bank. Vázquez, Herrera and a former FBI agent also face wire fraud and conspiracy charges, and up to 20 years in prison if convicted on all counts.


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Kenya election: Raila Odinga projected to win the presidency

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Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto, who portrayed himself as a champion for the poor, was declared the winner in the country’s presidential election on Monday in an announcement mired in controversy.

Kenya’s electoral commission head said that Ruto, 55, had narrowly defeated veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, with 50.49 percent of the vote to Odinga’s 48.5 percent. But just before that announcement, four of Kenya’s seven election commissioners held a separate news conference saying they could not stand by the results because of the “opaque nature” of the process.

The division within Kenya’s electoral body spawned confusion in a nation already on edge after waiting nearly a week for results and with a history of deadly post-election violence.

Following the release of the results, Ruto praised his fellow citizens, who he thanked for their patience and said “have raised the bar in this election.”

Odinga had yet to issue a statement as of Monday night. His running-mate, Martha Karua, tweeted: “It is not over till it is over.”

The uncertainty within Kenya’s own electoral body — which had spent the past week saying its tally would be the official one — could make it more likely that Odinga’s campaign will challenge the results in the Supreme Court, as it successfully did in 2017. That period, during which the court declared the results invalid, was marked by violent street protests and human rights violations.

Minutes before the chairman of the electoral commission, Wafula Chebukati, announced the result at its national tallying center, with Ruto in the audience, the deputy chair, Juliana Cherera, appeared at a news conference at a Nairobi hotel raising questions about the vote count. “We are not able to take ownership of the results that will be announced,” she said.

What happens next — especially the reaction of Odinga and his supporters — will be closely watched in Kenya and abroad, including Washington, where Kenya is considered an important counterterrorism ally and anchor of stability in the region.

In Kisumu, Odinga’s hometown, his supporters burnt tires and lit bonfires on the streets, blocking roads, while police used tear gas to clear crowds.

“We are done,” said Charles Olongo, 40, a taxi driver. “We are sick. We are tired.”

“This is devastating,” he added, before hanging up the phone.

The election had pitted two of Kenya’s most powerful politicians against one another in a hotly contested and sometimes bitter race.

Ruto, who frequently referred to being a chicken seller in his youth, argued that he was best positioned to represent Kenya’s youth and poorest citizens and promised a “bottom-up” economic model toward small business and employment. He framed the competition as one between “hustlers” like himself and “dynasties” like the Kenyattas and Odingas. Odinga’s father was the country’s first vice president, and outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta’s was its first president.

Odinga, who was on his fifth bid for the nation’s highest office, dismissed that as an attempt at “class warfare” and argued in an interview that Ruto was not the champion of the poor that he claimed. Ruto, who built his career as a businessman, now travels frequently in helicopters and owns numerous properties, including a mansion, a luxury hotel and a massive chicken plant.

Ruto has dismissed claims by critics that his wealth was acquired through corruption. His running-mate, Rigathi Gachagua, was ordered by a court last month to pay back about $1.7 million that it determined was linked to corruption. Gachagua said the decision was meant to undermine his candidacy.

This year, in a twist, Odinga had the support of Kenyatta, who is term-limited and was a longtime adversary. Kenyatta, who served for nearly a decade with Ruto in government, had a public falling out with his deputy during their second term.

Although Ruto praised Kenyans for moving beyond the “ethnic configurations” that had shaped past elections, tribe still played an important factor, with Ruto’s success due in part to his support among the Kikuyus, Kenya’s largest tribe, according to initial results. Three of Kenya’s four presidents, including Kenyatta, have been Kikuyus (the late President Daniel arap Moi was from the Kalenjin tribe). Ruto is from the Kalenjin tribe, and Odinga is from the Luo tribe, which historically has had an especially tense relationship with Kikuyus.

The new president will have to tackle the country’s massive debt, soaring inflation, a drought in the north that has left millions hungry and increasing youth unemployment.

Although voting unfolded largely peacefully Tuesday, tension ratcheted up in the days since polls closed. Disinformation has proliferated online, fueled by both campaigns.

Kenya’s election commission announced one of its officials had gone missing. Media organizations,, which had started tallying the results on their own, paused and then resumed their counts, giving a variety of explanations that left Kenyans with more questions than answers. Election officials urged patience.

As anxiety increased, some families in parts of the country that had seen violence erupt in past elections packed their bags and moved. Others did not have that option.

“I don’t have money, but if I did, I would move,” said 89-year-old Monica Waithera, whose daughter was killed when violence erupted in Mathare, one of Nairobi’s largest slums, in 2008.

Waithera had been having trouble sleeping since the polls closed, worried about what could happen — but hopeful there would be peace.

“I’m praying that things will not get bad again,” she said, “and that God will send us a leader … a leader who can help me buy milk.”




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Myanmar court convicts Suu Kyi on more corruption charges

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LONDON: Thousands of Afghan refugees who have been housed in hotels in the UK following the Kabul evacuation last year have been told by authorities to look for new accommodation on online real estate portals.

The UK Home Office has told refugees to find accommodation on Rightmove or Zoopla, The Guardian reported.

On the first anniversary of the Taliban takeover, the UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 Afghan refugees, with only 7,000 having been rehoused.

Although charities have welcomed government moves to end the use of hotels to accommodate the refugees, charity officials are concerned that many will fail to find suitable accommodation in the private rented sector and may end up homeless.

Afghan families with children will struggle to find affordable accommodation that is large enough using the housing benefit provided.

Charities also highlighted the fact that refugees may not be able to negotiate their own rental agreements due to language barriers, and would not have paperwork such as passports and bank statements that are required to rent a property.

Home Office sources say that in addition to encouraging Afghan families living in hotels to look for their own housing, they aim to offer each family two choices of accommodation somewhere in the UK. However, it is not known if they will be given a choice of location.

The Home Office said the accommodation offers would be “good, decent proposals,” but that if families rejected the offers, they would be provided with a further two months of hotel accommodation. It did not say what would happen if the families failed to secure accommodation after that.

Home Office sources say they are trying to encourage Afghan families to move to other parts of the UK, such as Wales, but this may be problematic for families with children who are attending school in large cities such as London.

Waiting lists for council housing are long, especially for larger properties that can accommodate Afghan families with three or more children.

Despite Afghan families having the right to rent under immigration rules and landlords being able to check this using an online tool, some are reluctant to rent to people who do not have a British passport, or evidence of life in the UK such as utility bills and payslips.

A letter sent to Afghan refugees from the Home Office says that not all councils will accept a request to put families on social housing waiting lists, urging them to start looking in the private rental sector.

“Not all councils will support you so it’s important to check,” the letters said. They urged the refugees to search for multiple properties to increase their chances of finding accommodation as the UK housing market is “very competitive.”

Eva Tabbasam, director of Gender Action for Peace and Security, expressed concern about the plans.

“Afghan families couldn’t have imagined that one year after arriving they’d still be warehoused in unsuitable accommodation, without space, privacy and stability. There is also a serious risk of homelessness for these families if suitable accommodation is not offered under the current Home Office plans, Tabbasam said.

“The government has had a year to sort things out — instead, it’s getting worse. If suitable accommodation was readily available for the 9,500 people still in hotels, families would already have been moved into it. We don’t yet know what kind of move on accommodation families will be offered,” she added.

London Councils’ executive member for communities, Claire Holland, said: “Boroughs are very concerned by the lack of alternative housing options for these families — a particular challenge in the capital due to the chronic shortage of affordable housing here.”

A Home Office spokesperson said that the use of hotels to house those resettling from Afghanistan is a temporary solution.

“We continue to work with over 350 local authorities to move Afghan families from hotels to permanent accommodation as quickly as possible,” they said.

“To support the resettlement of Afghan families, local authorities are given £20,520 ($24,789) per person over a three-year period. They have the flexibility to use this funding to contribute toward renting accommodation, including deposits, letting fees and furnishing.”


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In Vietnam, ‘feeding the police’ just a cost of doing business | Corruption

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Hanoi, Vietnam – When Ngan saw a police car passing by her coffee shop in Hanoi’s Old Quarter on a recent afternoon, she hurriedly grabbed the chairs cluttering the pavement and brought them inside.

After the police passed out of sight moments later, she put the chairs back out on the pavement, where they would stay until the arrival of the next patrol warning vendors to keep the area clear. By using the space in front of her 16-metre square shop, Ngan can double the number of customers that can be seated at a time.

“Everyday, we have to ‘act’ for a few seconds,” Ngan, who asked to use a pseudonym, told Al Jazeera. “They would not punish us anyway, since our ‘fees’ have been duly paid.”

Ngan, whose business supports a family of seven, pays VND 6 million ($260) in cash every 6 months to a police officer in charge of the neighborhood where her shop is located. On a number of occasions, she has even helped him collect money from other shops in the area.

“He would never tell me the amount he wanted. It is always I who offered the amount, and he would bargain afterwards, if dissatisfied,” said Ngan, who has been selling coffee at the same spot for more than a decade.

For many shop owners and street vendors in Hanoi, greasing the palms of local law enforcement on a regular basis, known colloquially as “nuôi công an” or “feeding the police”, is just another cost of doing business.

Vietnam was ranked 104 out of 180 countries in last year’s Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International, a Berlin-based nonprofit that combats global corruption, with a score of 36 out of 100, where 100 is considered most clean. The police are widely perceived as among the most corrupt sectors in the country.

When Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong launched his “furnace blazing” anti-corruption campaign in 2018, resulting in the prosecution of more than 11,700 economic crimes, the police and military were among the major targets alongside the upper echelons of the ruling communist party.

Vietnam has cracked down on high-level corruption in recent years [File: Kham/Reuters]

The campaign, however, has not wiped out petty corruption, which remains widely tolerated by businesses and authorities alike.

Although taking bribes by public officials and managers at state and non-state organisations was criminalized under a 2018 anti-corruption law, payments to police and other low-level civil servants are commonly construed as “protection fees”.

While strong anti-corruption measures have been carried out at the national level — including the establishment of a hotline to report police corruption — provincial authorities have refrained from tackling the issue, according to national officials.

Other measures have shown signs of progress. In 2019, the Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index, which interviewed 14,138 citizens in 63 provinces and cities, reported the biggest decline in corruption since 2011. The rate of respondents who reported a decrease in corruption was five percentage points higher than in 2018.

The Hanoi Municipal Police Department and Ministry of Public Security did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.

For Tu, the owner of a small hotpot restaurant in Hoa Bình city, gifts and payments are insurance against police harassment.

“In a restaurant, noise is inevitable. We might be fined for disturbing the peace of the neighborhood at any time,” she said. “It is better to pay and be left alone.”

Being on good terms with the local police saves Tu from mounds of paperwork, trips to administrative offices and other bureaucratic burdens that come with following the strict letter of the law.

“I do not have a lot of education. I do not know how to meet their requirements,” said Tu, who asked to use a pseudonym. “Those requirements are never transparent and might change on their whim. My business might be legal today and illegal the next day.”

‘Reciprocity’

A good relationship with the police can also encourage authorities to be flexible when it comes to bribes.

During a two-month lockdown that lifted in September, Ngan’s police officer contact waived “fees” as restrictions deprived her family of income.

Earlier this month, a local police officer called Ngan to inform him that he would “pay a visit”. Explaining that the shop was not doing good business due to a surge in coronavirus cases, Ngan asked for a “discount”. The police officer agreed, but told her she would need to make up for it when things get back to normal.

A former police officer in Hanoi, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that local police rely on small businesses for bribes as the owners of big businesses are too well connected to shake down.

He said that while he was allowed to keep a small portion of the bribes he collected, most of the money would be handed over to those “above him”, especially the chief police officer of the ward where he was posted.

“My boss asked us [subordinates] to pay him a certain amount of money each month,” the former police officer, who quit the force last year, said. “If we did not, we would be in trouble.”

Hung, who runs a coffee shop in the Đống Đa district of Hanoi, finds it difficult to blame lower-level police officers for the culture of corruption, which he sees as a form of “tán lộc” or sharing one’s fortune, that is necessary to avoid bad karma.

“In order to survive in the business world, you need to know how to pay respect to local authorities,” Hung, who asked to use a pseudonym, told Al Jazeera. “Reciprocity makes everyone happy.”

Hung is certain the bulk of the “unofficial fees” of $40 he pays to police each quarter go to higher-ranking officials.

“Police do not need you to abide by the law,” Hung said.  “They want you to break the law so that they will get the money to submit to their superiors.”

“We cannot blame them if their bosses are indecent,” he added, describing such petty corruption as “nothing compared to the corruption of higher-ranked officials”.


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