Players paid $10k to give away yellow cards in A-League games, police allege

Macarthur FC captain Ulises Dávila is one of three players from the A-League side who have been charged over an alleged betting scandal.

The NSW Police Organised Crime Squad Gaming Unit launched an investigation into the alleged manipulation of yellow cards during football games for gambling purposes.

Police will allege detectives discovered midfielder Mr Dávila, 33, had been allegedly taking instructions from a man — believed to be in South America — to organise yellow cards to occur during certain points in A-League games.

Three players have been charged with numerous offences.(Supplied: NSW Police)

The alleged offending occurred during games between November 24 and December 9 last year.

Mr Dávila received a yellow card during Macarthur FC’s game against Melbourne Victory on November 24 and another yellow card during his side’s match against Sydney FC on December 9.

Failed attempts to allegedly control the number of cards issued during games happened between April 20 and May 4 this year.

Players paid $10k for yellow card, police allege

Detectives executed five search warrants across Sydney this morning, arresting Mr Dávila in South Coogee.

A footballer sat on the ground with a ball at his feet

Ulises Dávila was arrested by detectives in South Coogee on Friday morning.(AAP: Jeremy Ng)

Police will allege a senior player paid junior players $10,000 for giving away yellow cards, acting under instruction of an organised crime figure in South America.

Assistant Commissioner Fitzgerald said the money was insignificant compared to the impact the actions of these players has had on the integrity of the game.

“We will allege that the giving out of four yellow cards and the subsequent penalties that arose out of those yellow cards could in fact change the way that result of that game went,” he said.

“While $10,000 may seem a lot of money to a young sportsperson, we will advise that is incredibly insignificant when you consider the damage that being charged with this offence and conviction results in.

“We will allege that these instance in November and December 2023, that these players betrayed the trust of their supporters.”

Police said in addition to the three players arrested this morning, they are looking for another player who is currently out of the state.

Betting done ‘predominantly in South America’

NSW Police State Crime Command’s Organised Crime Squad Detective Superintendent Peter Faux said investigators had not identified any betting in Australia, but “predominantly in South America”.

“There’s multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars being paid out in respect to the game we are alleging this occurred in,” he said.

Police officers outside a house

Police executed five warrants across Sydney this morning.(Supplied: NSW Police)

Superintendent Faux said he wanted to make it clear that there was currently no other evidence or indication that any other club within the A-League is involved.

Mr Dávila has been charged with a number of offences, including two counts of engage in conduct that corrupts a betting outcome of an event.

A 27-year-old player from Parramatta and a 32-year-old player from West Hoxton have also been charged with offences, including participate in a criminal group.

All three have been granted bail to appear in court at a later date.

Mr Dávila plays as an attacking midfielder and is the first Mexican to sign with English Premier League club Chelsea in 2011, and has previously played for Wellington Phoenix.

He recently signed on for another two years at Macarthur FC.

Club ‘shocked by arrests’

Macarthur FC said in a statement the club was “shocked” by the arrests

“Integrity of our game is a foundation pillar and we will work closely with all relevant agencies on this matter,” the club said.

Detectives from the organised crime squad are working with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Sports Integrity Australia, Football Australia, Australian Professional Leagues and the NSW Crime Commission.

The investigation is ongoing.

Look back at how ABC readers and other Australians responded to this live moment.

Wondering what this is? Join us next time we’re live and be part of the discussion.

Posted , updated 

Source link

#Players #paid #10k #give #yellow #cards #ALeague #games #police #allege

Diana Salazar, the prosecutor spearheading Ecuador’s fight against ‘narcopolitics’

Attorney General Diana Salazar is the leading figure in Ecuador’s fight against “narcopolitics”. As the country’s top prosecutor, her revelations have already led to the arrest of several high-level officials, including judges and other prosecutors accused of involvement in organised crime linked to drug trafficking. 

Ecuador is waging a war against the rise of “narcopolitics” and the powerful drug gangs who have infiltrated the country’s political system. Leading the fight is Attorney General Diana Salazar, who has launched what she described as the country’s “largest operation against corruption and drug trafficking in history”. 

Nicknamed the “Ecuadorian Loretta Lynch” after the US attorney general who served under Barack Obama, Salazar launched “Caso Metastasis” – a vast investigation into collusion between drug traffickers and government officials – following the October 2022 death in prison of powerful drug lord Leandro Norero.


More than 900 people took part in the investigation, which resulted in more than 75 raids and 30 arrests in mid-December. 

Ecuador has descended into chaos in recent weeks, with drug gangs going on a violent rampage. Hundreds of prison staff were taken hostage, a TV station was attacked live on air and explosions were reported in several cities. The latest violence erupted soon after the escape from prison of notorious crime boss Jose Adolfo Macias, known as “Fito”, the leader of Los Choneros, the country’s biggest gang. Ecuador’s President Daniel Noboa said earlier this month that the country was in a “state of war” against the drug cartels behind the violence.

Most recently, a prosecutor investigating the brief siege of the TV station was shot dead on Wednesday in the port city of Guayaquil. 

In a statement on X following the murder, Salazar vowed to continue Ecuador’s fight against drug gangs, saying “organised crime groups, criminals, terrorists will not stop our commitment to Ecuadoran society”. 

Ecuador’s first Black, female attorney general 

A well-known figure on Ecuador’s anti-corruption scene, Salazar, 42, is the country’s first Black woman to hold the position of attorney general.  

She comes from the northern Andean city of Ibarra, where local media says she grew up in a modest family, raised by a single mother of four. 

Salazar moved to Quito when she was 16 for high school. At the age of 20, while still a law student at the Central University of Ecuador, Salazar began working as an assistant prosecutor in the Pichincha provincial prosecutor’s office. By 2011 she had become the public prosecutor for the southern part of the province. 

Salazar, who later started handling cases involving organised crime and corruption, came to prominence when she led the investigation into the “Fifa Gate” affair in 2015, resulting in a 10-year prison sentence for Ecuador’s former football chief Luis Chiriboga for money laundering.   

Salazar also helped prosecute Ecuador’s former vice president Jorge Glas, who was implicated in a corruption case against Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. 

Led by Salazar, the investigation revealed that Glas, who was sentenced to six years in prison in 2017, received $13.5 million in bribes from Odebrecht. 

“The Odebrecht affair was a real test for Diana Salazar,” said Sunniva Labarthe, a doctor in political sociology at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris. “A lot of people thought she would be quickly removed from office as a consequence, but she’s managed to hold her ground … It shows that she is a credible and stable figure.” 

Salazar was elected attorney general for the first time in 2019. “In Ecuador, the attorney general position – known as ‘the fiscal’ – has become extremely important and scrutinised since the ministry of justice was abolished in 2018,” Labarthe said.  

Salazar even went after former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017) who in 2020 was sentenced to eight years in absentia for corruption and who later fled to Belgium

In 2021 Salazar was given an Anti-Corruption Champions Award by the US State Department, which said her “courageous actions in tackling these cases have made immense contributions to transparency and the rule of law in Ecuador”. 

Operation Metastasis

In a video message addressed to the public in December 2023, Salazar said that her office had uncovered a “criminal structure” that involves judges, prosecutors, prison officials and police officers, following the investigation into Norero’s death.

Salazar’s team scoured chats and call logs from Norero’s cellphone and found links to high-ranking state officials who handed out favours in exchange for money, gold, prostitutes, apartments and other luxuries.  

The operation revealed the extent of the corruption and infiltration of drug trafficking into the highest levels of government in Ecuador. 

“Salazar deserves credit for having carried out her operation in the utmost secrecy, so as to prevent the drug traffickers from being informed of the arrests,” said Emmanuelle Sinardet, professor of Latin American civilisations at Paris Nanterre University.  

“Managing to keep an investigation confidential is no mean feat in a country where corruption and the influence of drug trafficking are deeply rooted in state institutions,” she said. 

Regularly receiving death threats, Salazar has since largely kept out of the public eye, only appearing on occasion in a bullet-proof vest or surrounded by security.  

Ecuador’s top prosecutor, however, remains undaunted.  

“Now come and kill me,” she taunted her enemies at a recent hearing requesting prison terms for eight suspects. 

“Salazar’s courage, knowing full well that she is risking her life to fight corruption, makes her popular and appreciated by Ecuadoreans,” according to Sinardet. 

While Salazar has been criticised for her ambition and her alleged connections to powerful interests, “in the face of the threats to her and her family, the public sees her as a figure of integrity and dedication to the common good”, Sinardet says. “She is seen as the judicial arm of the state’s fight to restore authority and order to the streets.”  

Labarthe said the threats against those battling drugs and corruption are real, and widespread.

“We must not forget that all the other people involved in the fight against corruption – including lawyers, judges, investigators and journalists – are also under threat,” Labarthe said, adding: “We can only hope that Diana Salazar stays alive.” 

This article was translated from the original in French.



Source link

#Diana #Salazar #prosecutor #spearheading #Ecuadors #fight #narcopolitics

Cynical mimicry: China and Russia talk anti-corruption at the UN

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Redefining terms like anti-corruption, human rights, democracy, and integrity — even when self-evidently disingenuous — provides China the cover to mimic the mechanisms of good governance while blunting efforts to hold authoritarian regimes accountable, Elaine Dezenski writes.

ADVERTISEMENT

Representatives from hundreds of countries assembled last month at a UN conference in Atlanta, Georgia, to talk about global efforts to combat corruption. 

While the event of more than 3,000 attendees hardly made the local news, it proved to be a brilliant opportunity for authoritarian regimes to muddle an issue that negatively affects the lives and livelihoods of billions of people.

Disingenuous objections by Azerbaijan were meant to limit the participation of anti-corruption activists, while representatives from China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia spoke about the importance of transparency and even denying safe havens for illicit financial flows.

There were entertaining moments — a Russian panel on anti-corruption devoted its entire hour to discussing the difficulty of choosing a winner of its 1990s-style youth contest for the best anti-corruption poster or video. 

China handed out “little red boxes” to the other panellists after a particularly bland discussion of how academics can assist anti-corruption efforts — a panel where the Russian moderator appeared to make an overt request for greater China “funding”. 

It all adds up to a worrying and much larger trend on full display — the democratisation of kleptocracy.

Beijing pats itself on the back

The highlight for authoritarian double-talk, however, was unquestionably China and its self-congratulatory presentation on integrity within its notoriously corrupt Belt and Road Initiative. 

It was a sixty-minute tour de force, touting the various “high-level principles” and the “firm stances” on integrity building without ever providing a single concrete action to practically address — or even admit to — the massive corruption scandals caused by China’s opaque disbursal of a trillion dollars in BRI spending.

Instead of action, the China panel pushed weak and non-credible platitudes: “Every construction project will be completed with integrity. Each penny of public funds will be well spent. Every corrupt person will be brought to justice.” 

Apparently, the Chinese Communist Party is now available to help the world unwind China’s bad behaviour over the last decade of the BRI.

Beijing gave no support for its claims, though they did note that “an opinion poll shows that 97.4% of the Chinese people are satisfied with the progress in the fight against corruption.” 

To bolster the claims of integrity in global BRI projects, public officials from Cambodia, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia shared the stage with the Chief Inspector from China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), who offered that the state-owned company “show[s] zero tolerance to acts such as corruption, fraud, and colluding,” despite widespread allegations of corruption against CSCEC in BRI projects in Zambia, Guyana, Georgia, the Philippines, Pakistan, or Hungary.

The World Bank’s debarment of CSCEC in 2019 seems to stand alone as an appropriate and effective multi-lateral act of courage.

‘A more equitable and prosperous world for all’?

The nonsense narrative deepened with the BRI Integrity panel keynote address of Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the UN agency that oversees and safeguards the implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. 

More than 180 countries have signed the convention, including China’s adoption of it in 2006. 

Waly, the UN’s top anti-corruption official, shared the stage with Chinese officials to announce that “the Belt and Road Initiative charts a road towards a more equitable and prosperous world for all.” 

Given the astounding levels of corruption reported in BRI countries, Waly missed the opportunity to call out the BRI for what it has come to represent — a decade of questionable deals, large-scale corruption, vanity projects, opaque terms and conditions, and failing infrastructure, including in her home country of Egypt. 

While it is understandable that UN discussions reflect a level of diplomacy and respect, surely it is not impossible to speak the truth, or at least refrain from appearing oblivious to reality.

ADVERTISEMENT

China’s integrity double-talk is, of course, part of a broader push to extend political and economic influence by bending the UN and other international bureaucracies toward more empty platitudes that allow China (and others) to continue its export their own set of deal terms, rules, norms, and standards around the world.

In dire need of an honest conversation

Adopting the popular and valuable language of Western liberal democracies by redefining terms like anti-corruption, human rights, democracy, and integrity — even when self-evidently disingenuous — provides China the cover to mimic the mechanisms of good governance while blunting efforts to hold authoritarian regimes accountable.

A BRI document titled “Achievements and Prospects of Belt and Road Integrity Building,” argues that “integrity is the moral ‘bottom line’ and the legal ‘red line’ for Belt and Road cooperation.” 

Later in the same document, we see why China’s notion of integrity lacks meaning: “We need to … respect the right to choose one’s own way of fighting corruption.”

In other words, no country can judge another country’s methods for fighting corruption, even if those methods achieve nothing at all.

ADVERTISEMENT

To be clear, bashing a UN agency will not undo the ongoing whitewash of the global anti-corruption agenda. It is past time for governments to call out the double-speak. 

For the UNCAC to have real weight — and generate outcomes that are good enough for the local nightly news — it’s time for UNCAC signatories to hold themselves and each other accountable, starting with an honest conversation.

Elaine Dezenski is Senior Director and Head of the Center on Economic and Financial Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

Source link

#Cynical #mimicry #China #Russia #talk #anticorruption

Allegations of fake matches, murky finances plague cricket in France

Players, clubs, and recent members of France Cricket – the sport’s official governing body in France – accuse the organisation of lying to access International Cricket Council funds and concealing how it spends them. As the Cricket World Cup takes place in India, FRANCE 24 investigates the claims.

Mithali Raj, the world’s highest run-scoring female cricketer ever, spoke at an event on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower that was glittering with ambassadors, Indian film stars, models, cricketers and members of France Cricket – the sport’s official governing body in France.

The August 19 celebration marked the arrival of the Men’s Cricket World Cup trophy in Paris – on its global tour before the World Cup began on October 5 in Ahmedabad in western India – but was also an opportunity to shine a light on how far cricket has come in a country with no historic ties to the sport. 

Raj told the crowd that she joined the trophy tour to meet the French women’s team. “[This event] reflects the growth of women’s cricket and the evolution of women’s cricket from when it started to where it is now.”

But the glitz and glamour of the event may be masking an ugly reality. Players, clubs and recent members of France Cricket have accused it of mismanagement and fraud, including allegations that the organisation exaggerates its commitment to women’s cricket to access International Cricket Council (ICC) development funds, and conceals how it spends them.

Members of France Cricket pose with the ICC Cricket World Cup trophy in the Eiffel Tower on August 19, 2023. © FRANCE 24

Phantom matches

In a statement released by France Cricket in March 2022 titled “The Evolution of Women’s Sport and Cricket in France”, the organisation said 25% of French cricket players are women and that 91 women’s matches were to be organised that year.

But after interviewing people familiar with the workings of France Cricket, FRANCE 24 has ascertained that these figures are most likely significantly exaggerated.

Former France international cricketer Tracy Rodriguez, who has long tried to champion women’s cricket in the country, had always doubted that so many women’s matches were taking place, notably in the women’s second-division tournament, which comprises nine teams, all but one based within the Paris region.

After she was elected to the France Cricket Board in June 2021, Rodriguez said other members would laugh when she raised questions about women’s matches. Last year she decided to see if her suspicions were justified.

In her spare time, Rodriguez took a picnic to the cricket grounds where women’s games were scheduled and waited to see if anyone would turn up. No one did, she says. “Two or three times I [went] there, people were having picnics and kids cycling around at the time of the games. Then the day after I would see the results of the games online.”

Rodriguez quit her position on the France Cricket board in February this year.

To verify whether some of the matches are being faked, we attended scheduled fixtures. According to the France Cricket official fixture list, Sarcelles Cricket Ground north of Paris was meant to host the semi-final of the women’s second division between the Paris Knight Riders and Saint-Omer on September 2, at 2pm.

Instead of the scheduled women’s match, the men’s under-19 semi-final – which should have ended far earlier – was taking place. Once the game ended, around 3:30pm, both teams packed up and left. The women’s second division game apparently did not follow. Three days later, France Cricket rubber-stamped the match as having taken place and posted the results on their website.

Men play at Sarcelles Cricket Ground on September 2, 2023, during the scheduled women’s second division semi-final.
Men play at Sarcelles Cricket Ground on September 2, 2023, during the scheduled women’s second division semi-final. © Gregor Thompson, FRANCE 24

Confirmation of women’s second division semi-final in France Cricket meeting report, 5/9/2023.
Confirmation of women’s second division semi-final in France Cricket meeting report, 5/9/2023. © France Cricket website

When asked about the match, representatives of Paris Knight Riders and Saint-Omer contradicted one another. One, unaware of our presence, said the game did take place at the Sarcelles ground at 2pm as scheduled. The other said the game was moved on short notice to another ground in Chantilly, 25 kilometres north of Sarcelles.

After making these calls, we received a phone call from a spokesperson at France Cricket, telling us not to contact the clubs directly.

We also attended the scheduled final of the women’s second division on September 16 between the Paris Knight Riders and Balbyniens Cricket Club 93 at Dreux, west of Paris. Again, the game seemingly did not take place and again, three days later, France Cricket validated the result.

Men play at Dreux cricket ground on September 16, 2023, during the scheduled women’s second division final.
Men play at Dreux cricket ground on September 16, 2023, during the scheduled women’s second division final. © FRANCE 24

We could not find a single photo of a women’s second-division team on the social media of any of the clubs involved. Balbyniens, who regularly post pictures of their male team and who, according to France Cricket, won the women’s second division, have not posted anything about their apparent victory.

There are France Cricket directors at two of the clubs involved in this supposed final. Prethevechand Thiyagarajan, France Cricket’s treasurer, is registered as a player for Balbyniens. His assistant treasurer, Asif Zahir, is registered as a player for Dreux, which was meant to host and umpire the match.

Our information indicates each man has a senior leadership role at their respective clubs. Neither responded to an email asking why the matches did not take place as scheduled.

‘We don’t have a choice’

In the records of France Cricket board meetings, there are repeated mentions of an “ICC scorecard”, which is how the International Cricket Council evaluates how much development funding to allocate its associate member countries. According to a 2021 ICC presentation on the state of cricket in France, the ICC provides 60-70% of France Cricket’s total budget, roughly $320,000 out of a total of $520,000 for the year 2022. Almost half of these ICC funds are meant to support women’s and juniors’ cricket.

According to the minutes of a board meeting on January 10, 2020, France Cricket decided on an annual budget that was “largely inspired” by ICC requirements. “The Board is also aware that ICC subsidies are now closely linked to France’s performance on a number of indicators,” the document reads. “The risk of being downgraded (or overtaken by another better-performing country) is quite simply the loss of USD 100,000 from one year to the next.”

The minutes then reveal the direction France Cricket intended to take. Under a section titled “Scorecard and 2020 implications”, it reads: “The data will influence the next ICC Scorecard, hence the importance of figures … Development should focus on recruiting juniors and women.”

Throughout subsequent meeting notes and in a 2021-2024 strategy presentation France Cricket sent to the ICC, the association outlined various development initiatives it intended to undertake. The latter document, seen by FRANCE 24, contains a raft of measures that sound impressive on paper, such as “bi-monthly regional training camps”, “girls’ school competitions”, and the launching of new leagues.

Instead, France Cricket built a system that obliges top-performing clubs to create their own women’s and junior teams and begin filing results, or else face fines or relegation.

James Worstead, coach of men’s fourth-division team Vipères de Valenciennes, occasionally organises bilateral women’s games with first-division teams despite not having a women’s team within the France Cricket system.

He says France Cricket has created a system that links the fortunes of the men’s teams to the creation of female and junior teams – if a side cannot field a women’s team, it cannot compete in the top men’s leagues. Because assembling a women’s team is difficult, clubs sometimes just invent results, says Worstead.

“Most clubs cheat, they pretend to have a women’s team. They pay for licences and then they fake score sheets online … We have refused to fake matches and that means that even if we qualify we’re likely to never be able to get a promotion.”

Read moreExclusive: Alleged fake matches plague cricket in France

Irma Vrignaud, another former French international player and a current France Cricket board member, has tried repeatedly to enquire about women’s teams. In a France Cricket meeting in August, for instance, she says she asked whether there were any scorecards or photos to prove the matches took place, and received no clear answers.

Vrignaud says honest clubs get punished, whereas there are strong incentives for clubs to post fake results.

“The clubs that have fake women’s teams don’t get fined. But the clubs that have real women’s teams and that really say when the match is cancelled – because it’s the reality, because we struggle to find a squad, because we struggle to find a ground – when we [tell] the truth, we get fined because we didn’t do the match.”

According to France Cricket’s own guidelines, the fine for not showing up or forfeiting a fixture is €200. In case of repeat offences, the fine rises to €300. Not turning up to a semi-final or a final leaves your club with a penalty of €1000 – all significant sums for these amateur clubs.

In 2021, the year France Cricket began mandating clubs have women’s and junior teams, the organisation declared €20,210 in income from fines on its annual tax invoice – a ten-fold rise from 2019. During the 2022 season, when evidence of phantom matches started emerging, the income from fines dropped back down to €5,248.

A manager from one of France’s top-performing clubs, who denied the existence of fake matches, expressed his interest in developing a women’s team but says he “finds it difficult to find female players”.

“We are obliged to have a women’s team. We don’t have a choice,” he says, adding that he has resorted to encouraging his mother-in-law, his mother and his sister-in-law to play to make up numbers.

This situation isn’t necessarily de rigueur at every club which is close to France Cricket. The Lycée Français de Pondichéry Cricket Club à Morangis, for instance, has demonstrated a real commitment to promoting interest in cricket among French children, even partnering with the national agency for sports in schools, the UNSS.

France Cricket has not responded to multiple requests for comment on these allegations. The association has not been the subject of any legal proceedings to date.

Opaque finances

Former France Cricket CEO Marjorie Guillaume, who wrote the press release on the “Evolution of Women’s Sport and Cricket in France”, says she wrote it in the early stages of her tenure at France Cricket, before she knew what was really going on.

Guillaume says she took the position after France Cricket was pressured by the ICC to get a CEO, and that she believed she could help reform the organisation. “There was pressure by the ICC for numbers, which is why they wanted to show the ICC they were making moves to make changes, but I did not know that it was just mise en scène [stagecraft]. There was no real commitment.”

Guillaume’s most serious complaints are related to the opaque way the organisation runs its finances. At first, Guillaume started to notice that there was “a lot of incoherence” with the way France Cricket discussed its budget. “We got to a point where they were very uncomfortable with me because I was asking too many questions.”

Later, in a meeting with the ICC in Birmingham, France Cricket stipulated that Guillaume was not to be involved in the budget for 2022. “I said, how can I be a CEO of an organisation and you’re not letting me see where the money is going?”

Guillaume describes a situation where France Cricket appeared to be spending “hundreds of thousands of euros” on cricket equipment and locking it up in the basement of the France Cricket headquarters. “I was never allowed to go downstairs in the basement to see the equipment,” she says.

FRANCE 24 was not able to independently verify these claims.

After Guillaume’s tumultuous year with France Cricket, she went to the ICC to complain about the organisation. She is one of at least five people FRANCE 24 spoke to who have gone to the ICC about the mismanagement of cricket in the country.

Andrew Wright, in charge of European development at the ICC, said it “wouldn’t be right” to comment on the specific allegations mentioned in this article. But he said the ICC has “a process to make sure the levels of cricket activity that take place within a country are proofed, and checks and balances are in place”.

The French sports ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment. But they may want to take notice soon. Cricket is set to become an Olympic sport for the 2028 Los Angeles Games, which means it will receive “high level” status in France, making the national governing body eligible to apply for much more public money.

Women’s World Cup qualifiers

Despite concerns about the management of women’s cricket in France, the national team has produced some good results.

On 2 June, they exceeded expectations by beating Germany to make it into the European World Cup Qualifiers in Spain this September. They struggled to assemble a full squad for that competition and lost every match.

To play in the women’s World Cup Qualifiers, the ICC demands nations have at least eight domestic women’s teams “competing in a minimum of five hard-ball matches for the previous two years”. We could only verify the existence of four teams that fulfil this criteria.

Asked about this, the ICC responded in an email saying, “France’s entry into the 2023 Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifiers was determined by domestic activities that took place in 2021 and 2022 and pre-Covid,” adding: “Members are also obliged to confirm to us that the information they provide to us is true and accurate.”

Lost potential

Five of the squad who played in the European World Cup Qualifiers in Spain honed their skills at Nantes Cricket Club, one of many clubs outside the Paris region that say they receive little to no support from France Cricket.

Club president Sabine Lieury worries that, with no effort being made to develop grassroots cricket, the sport will fail to get off the ground. “We don’t get any funding from France Cricket. They don’t help us when we go to the authorities to ask for money,” she says. “This association should be working to help clubs, but I don’t think that’s the case.”

Pradeep Chalise set up Aunis Cricket Club near La Rochelle in the west of France in 2017. In his quest to set up a cricket academy for children, Chalise went looking for funding for a practice cricket net. The town hall’s response was encouraging, and they told Chalise to reach out to France Cricket to see if it could also contribute.

He did so in March 2021, and in an email nine months later, France Cricket told Chalise they would loan – not donate – 25% of the cost of the practice nets to Aunis Cricket Club. “It’s a very small club and there’s no way we could pay €4,000 back to France Cricket,” says Chalise. “So, I talked to the president and I explained to them why it was very important to have the practice nets but they simply did not care.”

Despite not using their development budget – €100,000 that year – to help the club, Chalise says France Cricket used images of the academy’s children in a strategy presentation to the ICC to demonstrate they were committed to junior development.

This experience soured Chalise’s perception of France Cricket. Today, he continues running the club and the academy outside the framework of France Cricket, working to grow the sport without official support, just like several other cricket clubs around France.

It’s a real shame, says Chalise. “What I can tell you after having run Aunis CC for the last six or seven years is that French people are interested in cricket.”

This article is also available in French. Our investigation is also available in video format.

FRANCE 24’s Peter O’Brien tells us more about covering this story


Source link

#Allegations #fake #matches #murky #finances #plague #cricket #France

Armenians find themselves pushed aside yet again

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe. 

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world is “inching ever closer to a great fracture in economic and financial systems and trade relations.”

That may be so, but not when it comes to Azerbaijan.

A country a third of the size of Britain and with a population of about 10 million, Azerbaijan has faced few problems in bridging geopolitical divisions. And recently, Baku has been offering a masterclass in how to exploit geography and geology to considerable advantage.

From Washington to Brussels, Moscow to Beijing, seemingly no one wants to fall out with Azerbaijan; everyone wants to be a friend. Even now, as Armenia has turned to the world for help, accusing Baku of attempted ethnic cleansing in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh — the land-locked and long-contested Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.

Warning signs had been mounting in recent weeks that Baku might be planning a major offensive, which it dubbed an “anti-terrorist operation,” and Armenia had been sending up distress flares. But not only were these largely overlooked, Baku has since faced muted criticism for its assault as well.

Western reaction could change, though, if Azerbaijan were to now engage in mass ethnic cleansing — but Baku is canny enough to know that.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Azerbaijan has been courted by all sides, becoming one of the war’s beneficiaries.

On a visit to Baku last year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had only warm words for the country’s autocratic leader Ilham Aliyev, saying she saw him as a reliable and trustworthy energy partner for the European Union.

Then, just a few weeks later, Alexander Lukashenko — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s satrap in Belarus — had no hesitation in describing Aliyev as “absolutely our man.”

Is there any other national leader who can be a pal of von der Leyen and Lukashenko at the same time?

Aliyev is also a friend of Turkey; Baku and Beijing count each other as strategic partners, with Azerbaijan participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative; and the country has been working on expanding military cooperation with Israel as well. In 2020 — during the last big flare-up in this intractable conflict — Israel had supplied Azerbaijan with drones, alongside Turkey.

That’s an impressive list of mutually exclusive friends and suitors — and location and energy explain much.

Upon her arrival in Azerbaijan’s capital last year, von der Leyen wasn’t shy about highlighting Europe’s need to “diversify away from Russia” for its energy needs, announcing a deal with Baku to increase supplies from the southern gas corridor — the 3,500-kilometer pipeline bringing gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe.

She also noted that Azerbaijan “has a tremendous potential in renewable energy” in offshore wind and green hydrogen, enthusing that “gradually, Azerbaijan will evolve from being a fossil fuel supplier to becoming a very reliable and prominent renewable energy partner to the European Union.”

There was no mention of Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record, rampant corruption or any call for the scores of political prisoners to be released.

Azerbaijan uses oil and gas “to silence the EU on fundamental rights issues,” Philippe Dam of Human Rights Watch complained at the time. “The EU should not say a country is reliable when it is restricting the activities of civil society groups and crushing political dissent,” he added.

Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s Brussels office, warned: “Ukraine serves as a reminder that repressive and unaccountable regimes are rarely reliable partners and that privileging short-term objectives at the expense of human rights is a recipe for disaster.”

But von der Leyen isn’t the first top EU official to speak of Azerbaijan as such a partner. In 2019, then EU Council President Donald Tusk also praised Azerbaijan for its reliability.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, however, the EU’s courting has become even more determined — and, of course, the bloc isn’t alone. Rich in oil and gas and located between Russia, Iran, Armenia, Georgia and the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is a strategic prize, sitting “on the crossroads of former major empires, civilizations and regional and global powerhouses,” according to Fariz Ismailzade of ADA University in Baku.

And Azerbaijan’s growing importance in the latest great game in Central Asia is reflected in the increase in foreign diplomatic missions located in its capital — in 2005 there were just two dozen, now there are 85.

For Ankara, and Beijing — eager to expand their influence across Central Asia — Azerbaijan is a key player in regional energy projects, as well as the development of new regional railways and planned infrastructure and connectivity projects.

Thanks to strong linguistic, religious and cultural ties, Turkey has been Azerbaijan’s main regional ally since it gained independence. But Baku has been adept at making sure it keeps in with all its suitors. It realizes they all offer opportunities but could also be dangerous, should relations take a dive.

And this holds for all the key players in the region, whether it be the EU, Turkey, China or Russia. The reason Baku can get on with a highly diverse set of nations — and why there likely won’t be many serious repercussions for Baku with this latest military foray — is that no one wants to give geopolitical rivals an edge and upset the fragile equilibrium in Central Asia. That includes its traditional foe Iran – Baku and Tehran have in recent months been trying to build a détente after years of hostility.

For the Armenians, so often finding themselves wronged by history, this is highly unfortunate. They might have been better advised to follow Azerbaijan’s example and try to be everyone’s friend, instead of initially depending on Russia, then pivoting West — a pirouette that’s lost them any sympathy in Moscow.

But then again, Armenia hasn’t been blessed with proven reserves of oil or natural gas like its neighbor.



Source link

#Armenians #find #pushed

Toshakhana corruption case | Islamabad High Court suspends Imran Khan’s three-year sentence

The Islamabad High Court on August 29 suspended Imran Khan’s three-year sentence in the Toshakhana corruption case and ordered his release from jail, in a major relief to Pakistan’s embattled former Prime Minister ahead of the upcoming general elections.

A Division Bench comprising Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Aamir Farooq and Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri announced the much-anticipated verdict which was reserved on August 28.

“Decision of District Court [has been] suspended by IHC,” Mr. Khan’s party — Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — said in a short WhatsApp message.

The court said that a copy of the judgment will be available shortly.

“The copy of the judgment will be available shortly … all we are saying now is that [Imran’s] request has been approved,” Justice Farooq said.

Aleema Khan, front centre, and Uzma Khanum, rear centre, sisters of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan arrive at the Islamabad High Court in Islamabad, Pakistan on August 29, 2023.
| Photo Credit:
AP

The Bench also ordered to release the 70-year-old leader on the production of surety bonds worth Pakistani rupees 100,000.

Mr. Khan’s legal counsel Naeem Haider Panjotha posted on X, formerly Twitter: “The CJ has accepted our request, suspended the sentence and said a detailed decision would be provided later.” Mr. Khan’s sentence has been suspended but he was not being released as a special court holding his trial in the Official Secrets Act directed the Attock Jail authorities to keep him in the “judicial lockup” and produce him on August 30 before the court in connection with the cipher case.

Former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi is already in custody in the same case.

The case launched last week alleged that Khan and others were involved in the violation of the secret laws of the country.

The Bench reserved the verdict on August 28 after the rival lawyers concluded their arguments on the suspension of the conviction and three-year sentence handed down to Mr. Khan by Additional District and Session Judge, Islamabad, Humayun Dilawar on August 5 — a move that barred him from contesting general elections.

The former cricketer-turned-politician was sentenced on charges of unlawfully selling state gifts acquired by him and his family during his 2018-2022 tenure. He was also barred from politics for five years, preventing him from contesting an upcoming election.

Lawyers and supporters of Pakistani imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan react after court decision, in Islamabad, Pakistan on August 29, 2023.

Lawyers and supporters of Pakistani imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan react after court decision, in Islamabad, Pakistan on August 29, 2023.
| Photo Credit:
AP

General elections are scheduled to be held in Pakistan within 90 days after the dissolution of the National Assembly, which was prematurely dissolved on August 10 by President Arif Alvi. However, the polls are likely be delayed as the government has announced that the elections could take place only after a new census was completed and new constituency boundaries drawn.

The exercise could take about four months to complete and means that polls may be delayed till next year.

The government’s announcement had come on the same day when Mr. Khan was arrested after being sentenced to three years in prison for “corrupt practices”.

Mr. Khan challenged his conviction within days and the IHC began a formal hearing on August 22. It adjourned the case on Friday after the lawyer representing the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) did not appear due to illness.

Mr. Khan’s lawyer Latif Khosa completed his argument on Thursday, asserting that the verdict was given in haste and was full of shortcomings. He urged the court to set aside the sentence but the defence team demanded more time to complete its arguments.

His party welcomed the IHC verdict, with party Information Secretary Raoof Hasan saying that Mr. Khan’s arrest in any other case after the suspension of his sentence in the Toshakhana case would be “ill-intentioned and mala fide”.

We are fortunate to be witnessing the re-scripting of Pakistan’s political and legal history,” he said, adding that “justice shall prevail”.

However, former premier Shehbaz Sharif expressed its displeasure at the court’s order saying that the sentence was suspended and “not terminated”.

“The Chief Justice of Pakistan’s message of ’good to see you’ and ‘wish you good luck’ has reached the IHC,” he said, claiming that “everyone knew about the verdict before it was even announced”.

“This moment is a matter of concern for our justice system,” Mr. Shehbaz Sharif said. “If a clear message is received from the higher judiciary, what else should the subordinate court do?” Separately, a three-member Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail is also set to resume hearing petitions against the Toshakhana case.

On Wednesday, the apex court after hearing various petitions against the Toshakhana case observed that there were “shortcomings” in the judgment of the sessions court.

The panel observed that the verdict was given in haste and without giving the right of defence to the accused. “Prima facie, there are shortcomings in the trial court verdict,” the Chief Justice said.

The apex court had also stated it would wait for the IHC hearing before giving its judgment. It resumed the hearing on Thursday but adjourned it without fixing any date after it was told that the IHC was holding a hearing.

The Toshakhana case was filed by ruling party lawmakers in 2022 in the ECP, alleging that Mr. Khan concealed the proceeds from the sale of state gifts.

The ECP first disqualified Mr. Khan and then filed a case of criminal proceedings in a sessions court which convicted him and subsequently, Khan was sent to jail.

Mr. Khan is currently in Attock Jail following his arrest from his Lahore home.

The case alleges that Mr. Khan had “deliberately concealed” details of the gifts he retained from the Toshakhana — a repository where presents handed to government officials from foreign officials are kept — during his time as the Prime Minister from 2018 to 2022 and proceeds from their reported sales.

As per Toshakhana rules, gifts/presents and other such materials received by persons to whom these rules apply shall be reported to the Cabinet Division.

According to reports, Mr. Khan received 58 gifts worth more than ₹140 million from world leaders during his three-and-a-half-year stint and retained all of them either by paying a negligible amount or even without any payment.

Source link

#Toshakhana #corruption #case #Islamabad #High #Court #suspends #Imran #Khans #threeyear #sentence

In Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF are trying to steal the election again

It is imperative that the EU, UK, US and other democratic voices help Zimbabwe stand tall and show the rest of Africa that the retreat of democracy is not inevitable, Lord Oates writes.

Long-time observers of Zimbabwe will feel a strong sense of déjà vu ahead of Wednesday’s parliamentary and presidential elections. 

ADVERTISEMENT

An ageing leader is boxed in by an economic crisis. He clings to power in the face of deep unpopularity by clamping down on opposition activists and stifling media freedom. 

Fears mount that the president will refuse to leave office even if he is defeated, and will try to steal the election through spreading misinformation and intimidating his political enemies.

When Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeded Robert Mugabe in a palace coup backed by the army six years ago, those who did not know — or chose to ignore — Mnangagwa’s blood-soaked history had high hopes that he would bring political reform. 

Instead, democratic space has been further shut down as the president’s repressive rule deepens the suffering of ordinary Zimbabweans.

It’s not the first time this is happening

Faced with triple-digit inflation, a sinking currency, and billions of external debt, Mnangagwa can barely pay teachers or nurses, or provide food to almost half of the population living in rural areas who are at risk of hunger. 

He has responded to his growing unpopularity by harassing and detaining opposition activists, trade unionists and journalists.

The opposition, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), fears a rerun of the last presidential elections, in 2018, when a widely predicted opposition victory crumbled to dust.

Zimbabwe’s politicised electoral commission mysteriously delayed the announcement of the official results for five days. 

 In this fog of confusion, Zanu-PF were awarded hundreds of thousands more votes than election observers had seen being cast at polling stations. 

When voters took to the streets to protest, Mnangagwa’s security forces opened fire on civilians at random, killing six.

This time around, the EU has sent 150 election observers, and the Carter Center in the US has deployed 30 observers to observe polling, counting, and tabulation on election day. 

ADVERTISEMENT

This presence, together with a nationwide system in which volunteers will count the number of votes cast, should make attempts to steal the elections harder.

‘Patriotic Law’, intimidation and violence

But the opposition have formidable obstacles in their way. Mnangagwa recently imposed the “Patriotic Law”, which threatens anyone who is deemed to be “wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe” with the death penalty. 

This has had a dampening effect on free speech, making opposition politicians and activists fearful of engaging with international media. 

Under another new law, NGOs can also be summarily banned, or their leadership replaced, with no recourse to the courts.

The election campaign has been marked by widespread intimidation and violence against opposition supporters, the banning and obstruction of political rallies, and candidates burnt out of their homes. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Recently, an opposition campaigner, Tinashe Chitsunge, was brutally murdered.

The greatest barrier to the election of an alternative government is the capture of the Electoral Commission by Zanu-PF. 

 It is currently packed with party supporters, run by a retired army general, who has been accused of passing on voter data to Zanu-PF, which they have used to send campaign text messages to voters. 

Such information, needless to say, is not available to the opposition. This has been combined with attempts to deregister opposition candidates, fewer polling stations in districts where the opposition are strong, and a state-controlled media that barely offers airtime to the opposition.

The question may be asked: if democracy is under such sustained attack, how can the rest of the world support the Zimbabwean people?

ADVERTISEMENT

Ignoring the issues won’t win friends in Africa

Firstly, we must pressure Western governments not to cave in and legitimise an election that has been stolen. 

 China is buying up lithium mines in Zimbabwe — the continent’s largest producer of the mineral — to provide components for batteries in electric cars. 

 It, and other authoritarian states, do so with the advantage that they avoid accusations that they are lecturing Africans on human rights. 

The West, which also wants access to these resources, may be tempted to mirror this behaviour.

But this would set a terrible precedent. Zimbabwe and its people cannot live better lives until the rule of law is restored, and free and fair elections can legitimately take place. 

Ignoring democratic shortcomings will not win friends for the West in Africa or secure a brighter future for Zimbabweans.

Western countries are understandably nervous about standing in judgement on African politics, given their history of colonialism. 

However, ignoring extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, summary trials, censorship, bans on assembly, and obvious vote-rigging by Zanu PF, will not atone for past oppression inflicted under colonial rule.

Democratic voices need to step in

The elections offer hope to millions of Zimbabweans that there might be a brighter future. And there is reason for some optimism. 

In neighbouring Zambia, the political opposition recently managed to win and secure a democratic transition.

Such a path exists for Zimbabwe, in the event of a free and fair election bringing about democratic change. 

But to help this come about, it is imperative that the EU, UK, US and other democratic voices, offer a swift plan to ease some of the country’s international debt burdens and help with the democratic transition. 

By doing so, they can help Zimbabwe stand tall and show the rest of Africa that the retreat of democracy is not inevitable.

Lord Oates is a member of the UK House of Lords and Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Zimbabwe. He taught in rural Zimbabwe in the late 1980s.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

Source link

#Zimbabwe #ZanuPF #steal #election

In Lebanon, it is difficult to know what rock bottom is

It is a humanitarian duty for the Council of the European Union to support the people of Lebanon and issue targeted sanctions against those who continue to promote their own interests to the detriment of the population, Zena Wakim writes.

Beirut’s celebrated nightlife has long had a rebellious air: a subversive challenge to conservative dogma, an antidote to rotten politics and a hedonistic emancipation from sectarian street battles. 

But now even the night has been stolen, increasingly affordable only to the rich. Rolling power outages ensure that the city is bathed in darkness. 

Meanwhile, the tourism ministry excitedly predicted 2.2 million visitors this summer. Most will be Lebanese who long since fled, briefly seeing family and friends still trapped in a quagmire.

In Lebanon, it is difficult to know what rock bottom is, perhaps that’s why EU policymakers fail to treat it as a priority. 

Fifteen years of civil war, an Israeli invasion, a Syrian occupation, over 250 unsolved political assassinations, an unparalleled refugee crisis, the world’s worst economic collapse since the 19th century and one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history.

The country is an unaccountable mafia state where over 80% of the citizens now live in multidimensional poverty and where ex-warlords turned politicians turned the state into a host they could feed on. 

Or, to quote the World Bank, the government has “consistently and acutely departed from orderly and disciplined fiscal policy to serve the larger purpose of cementing political economy interests.”

Dystopian scenes and parallel realities

Years of financial misconduct by the government culminated in 2019 when Lebanese citizens found their bank accounts effectively frozen, blocked from withdrawing US dollars and only allowed derisory amounts of Lebanese pounds — a currency that has now lost more than 98% of its value in four years. 

The pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine compounded the financial misery prompting more power outages, medicine shortages and mass emigration. 

Some took to refugee boats across the Mediterranean. Some scavenged for food in dumpsters. 

Others conducted armed heists on banks to demand their own savings, becoming folk heroes in the process.

But amid these dystopian scenes, under cover of banking secrecy laws, the country’s politically connected were living in a parallel reality. 

While ordinary people, those not politically connected, were unable to access their funds, political elites transferred over $10 billion (€9.06bn) out of the country siphoning the pot of liquidities collectively owned by all depositors. 

It wasn’t too complicated since 18 of the 20 largest Lebanese banks are owned by politically exposed individuals.

A whole country running on cash is a win-win for kleptocrats

In lieu of a banking system, Lebanon now runs on cash. In lieu of people to form a thriving economy, Lebanon survives on remittances from abroad (accounting for 38% of GDP).

Using central bank-issued licenses, a few privileged firms in the country are allowed to process these money transfers, conveniently located in areas run by ruling parties. 

One of them is BOB Finance whose chairman is a long-standing ally of the Governor of the Central Bank and the head of the Banking Association. 

The worse the economy, the more urgent the need for remittances. More remittances mean higher profits for the elite’s crony companies.

It is just one of many schemes in Lebanon’s Ponzi economy, and another example of why the banking sector remains a quagmire. 

The cash economy creates a win-win situation for the kleptocrats. The longer Lebanon goes without an IMF plan, the more cash they make. 

And when, or if, said plan should come to fruition and the banking sector gets restructured, they will be the first to show up with the cash to acquire what remains of the economy, including its ailing banks. 

Their industrial-scale looting will go unpunished, and the parasitic networks will continue to strangle the country to destitution.

That is, unless Europe decides to get serious and punish the wrongdoers with travel bans, asset freezes and seizures.

Is there anything left to destabilise?

It is regularly heard in Brussels circles that Syria and Iran are much more of a priority than Lebanon and that sanctions should focus first on Damascus and Teheran. 

The reality is that handling Lebanon as an unrelated matter is an intellectual construct which can only be entertained by bureaucrats who do not grasp the extent of state capture in Beirut.

It has also been a long rhetoric that one shouldn’t rock the boat in Lebanon as long as the refugees are “there” and that any targeted sanctions on the Lebanese political elite might destabilise the country and the region. But is there anything left to destabilise?

In July 2021, the Council of the EU announced a framework for sanctions against Lebanese figures “undermining democracy or the rule of law in Lebanon” while assuming that the threat of sanctions would be deterring for the corrupt elite. 

The two years which elapsed since the framework was issued not only proved them wrong since the situation continues to deteriorate but it showed how much they underestimated the genius wit of those in power who was given a perfect window of opportunity to put their assets in safe heavens.

The cost of this poor bet is borne by the population alone.

It’s time for the party to be over

On 12 July, the European Parliament adopted a draft resolution calling for sanctions on Lebanese elites obstructing presidential elections and the Beirut port blast investigation and those who have enriched themselves to the detriment of the population. 

It now behooves the Council of the European Union to take action. For those that helped impoverish the country, it is time that the party stopped.

Heading the opposite direction from Lebanese visitors this summer will be the elites, jetting out to European properties bought with money looted from the state, perhaps with bags of cash to deposit in European banks. 

They may drive past Gemmayze, the lively neighbourhood for Beirut’s “real nightlife” peppered with bars, galleries, and restaurants that many now struggle to afford. 

It is also the place where the port explosion ripped through three years ago and for which still nobody has been held accountable. Impunity has robbed Beirut of its soul.

While civil society tracks corruption and proceeds to have them restituted to Lebanon, while the victims of the Beirut port explosion gather their last resources to push for justice, while courageous journalists and intellectuals risk their lives to seek accountability, it is a humanitarian duty for the Council of the European Union to support their fight and issue targeted sanctions against those who continue to promote their own interests to the detriment of the population.

Zena Wakim is an international lawyer and President of the Board of the Swiss Foundation Accountability Now, whose mission is to support Lebanese civil society in its desire to put an end to the impunity of corrupt leaders.

_At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.
_

Source link

#Lebanon #difficult #rock #bottom

The EU’s reply to Qatargate: Nips, tucks and paperwork

Press play to listen to this article

Voiced by artificial intelligence.

STRASBOURG — The European Parliament’s response to Qatargate: Fight corruption with paperwork.

When Belgian police made sweeping arrests and recovered €1.5 million from Parliament members in a cash-for-influence probe last December, it sparked mass clamoring for a deep clean of the institution, which has long languished with lax ethics and transparency rules, and even weaker enforcement.

Seven months later, the Parliament and its president, Roberta Metsola, can certainly claim to have tightened some rules — but the results are not much to shout about. With accused MEPs Eva Kaili and Marc Tarabella back in the Parliament and even voting on ethics changes themselves, the reforms lack the political punch to take the sting out of a scandal that Euroskeptic forces have leaped on ahead of the EU election next year.

“Judge us on what we’ve done rather [than] on what we didn’t,” Metsola told journalists earlier this month, arguing that Parliament has acted swiftly where it could. 

While the Parliament can claim some limited improvements, calls for a more profound overhaul in the EU’s only directly elected institution — including more serious enforcement of existing rules — have been met with finger-pointing, blame-shifting and bureaucratic slow-walking. 

The Parliament dodged some headline-worthy proposals in the process. It declined to launch its own inquiry into what really happened, it decided not to force MEPs to declare their assets and it won’t be stripping any convicted MEPs of their gold-plated pensions.

Instead, the institution favored more minimal nips and tucks. The rule changes amount to much more bureaucracy and more potential alarm bells to spot malfeasance sooner — but little in the way of stronger enforcement of ethics rules for MEPs.

EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who investigates complaints about EU administration lamented that the initial sense of urgency to adopt strict reforms had “dissipated.” After handing the EU a reputational blow, she argued, the scandal’s aftermath offered a pre-election chance, “to show that lessons have been learned and safeguards have been put in place.”

Former MEP Richard Corbett, who co-wrote the Socialists & Democrats group’s own inquiry into Qatargate and favors more aggressive reforms, admitted he isn’t sure whether Parliament will get there.  

“The Parliament is getting to grips with this gradually, muddling its way through the complex field, but it’s too early to say whether it will do what it should,” he said. 

Bags of cash

The sense of resignation that criminals will be criminals was only one of the starting points that shaped the Parliament’s response. 

“We will never be able to prevent people taking bags of cash. This is human nature. What we have to do is create a protection network,” said Raphaël Glucksmann, a French MEP who sketched out some longer-term recommendations he hopes the Parliament will take up. 

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Another is that the Belgian authorities’ painstaking judicial investigation is still ongoing, with three MEPs charged and a fourth facing imminent questioning. Much is unknown about how the alleged bribery ring really operated, or what the countries Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania really got for their bribes.

On top of that, Parliament was occasionally looking outward rather than inward for people to blame. 

Metsola’s message in the wake of the scandal was that EU democracy was “under attack” by foreign forces. The emphasis on “malign actors, linked to autocratic third countries” set the stage for the Parliament’s response to Qatargate: blame foreign interference, not an integrity deficit. 

Instead of creating a new panel to investigate how corruption might have steered Parliament’s work, Parliament repurposed an existing committee on foreign interference and misinformation to probe the matter. The result was a set of medium- and long-term recommendations that focus as much on blocking IT contractors from Russia and China as they do on holding MEPs accountable — and they remain merely recommendations. 

Metsola did also turn inward, presenting a 14-point plan in January she labeled as “first steps” of a promised ethics overhaul. The measures are a finely tailored lattice-work of technical measures that could make it harder for Qatargate to happen again, primarily by making it harder to lobby the Parliament undetected.

The central figure in Qatargate, an Italian ex-MEP called Pier Antonio Panzeri, enjoyed unfettered access to the Parliament, using it to give prominence to his human rights NGO Fight Impunity, which held events and even struck a collaboration deal with the institution. 

This 14-point package, which Metsola declared is now “done,” includes a new entry register, a six-month cooling-off period banning ex-MEPs from lobbying their colleagues, tighter rules for events, stricter scrutiny of human rights work — all tailored to ensure a future Panzeri hits a tripwire and can be spotted sooner.

Notably, however, an initial idea to ban former MEPs from lobbying for two years after leaving office — which would mirror the European Commission’s rules — instead turned into just a six-month “cooling off” period.

Internal divisions

Behind the scenes, the house remains sharply divided over just how much change is needed. Many MEPs resisted bigger changes to how they conduct their work, despite Metsola’s promise in December that there would be “no business as usual,” which she repeated in July.  

The limited ambition reflects an argument — pushed by a powerful subset of MEPs, primarily in Metsola’s large, center-right European People’s Party group — that changing that “business as usual” will only tie the hands of innocent politicians while doing little to stop the few with criminal intent. They’re bolstered by the fact that the Socialists & Democrats remain the only group touched by the scandal.

“There were voices in this house who said, ‘Do nothing, these things will always happen, things are fine as they are,’” Metsola said. Some of the changes, she said, had been “resisted for decades” before Qatargate momentum pushed them through. 

The Parliament already has some of the Continent’s highest standards for legislative bodies, said Rainer Wieland, a long-serving EPP member from Germany who sits on the several key rule-making committees: “I don’t think anyone can hold a candle to us.”

MEP Rainer Wieland holds lots of sway over the reforms | Patrick Seeger/EFE via EPA

Those who are still complaining, he added in a debate last week, “are living in wonderland.”

Wieland holds lots of sway over the reforms. He chairs an internal working group on the Parliament’s rules that feeds into the Parliament’s powerful Committee on Constitutional Affairs, where Metsola’s 14-point plan will be translated into cold, hard rules. 

Those rule changes are expected to be adopted by the full Parliament in September. 

The measures will boost existing transparency rules significantly. The lead MEP on a legislative file will soon have to declare (and deal with) potential conflicts of interest, including those coming from their “emotional life.” And more MEPs will have to publish their meetings related to parliamentary business, including those with representatives from outside the EU. 

Members will also have to disclose outside income over €5,000 — with additional details about the sector if they work in something like law or consulting. 

Negotiators also agreed to double potential penalties for breaches: MEPs can lose their daily allowance and be barred from most parliamentary work for up to 60 days. 

Yet the Parliament’s track record punishing MEPs who break the rules is virtually nonexistent.

As it stands, an internal advisory committee can recommend a punishment, but it’s up to the president to impose it. Of 26 breaches of transparency rules identified over the years, not one MEP has been punished. (Metsola has imposed penalties for things like harassment and hate speech.) 

And hopes for an outside integrity cop to help with enforcement were dashed when a long-delayed Commission proposal for an EU-wide independent ethics body was scaled back. 

Stymied by legal constraints and left-right divides within the Parliament, the Commission opted for suggesting a standards-setting panel that, at best, would pressure institutions into better policing their own rules.

“I really hate listening to some, especially members of the European Parliament, who say that ‘Without having the ethics body, we cannot behave ethical[ly],’” Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová lamented in June.

Metsola, for her part, has pledged to adhere to the advisory committee’s recommendations going forward. But MEPs from across the political spectrum flagged the president’s complete discretion to mete out punishments as unsustainable.

“The problem was not (and never really was) [so] much the details of the rules!!! But the enforcement,” French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield — who sits in the working group — wrote to POLITICO.

Wieland, the German EPP member on the rule-making committees, presented the situation more matter-of-factly: Parliament had done what it said it would do.

“We fully delivered” on Metsola’s plan, Wieland told POLITICO in an interview. “Not more than that.”



Source link

#EUs #reply #Qatargate #Nips #tucks #paperwork

Defiant Netanyahu vows to press ahead with key vote on contentious judicial reform

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday vowed to press ahead with his contentious judicial overhaul, despite unprecedented mass protests at home, growing defections by military reservists and appeals from the U.S. president to put the plan on hold.

Netanyahu’s message, delivered in a prime time address on national television, set the stage for stepped-up street protests in the coming days leading up to a fateful vote expected Monday. Thousands of people marched through central Tel Aviv on Thursday night, while others continued a roughly 70 kilometer (roughly 45 mile) march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu was at times conciliatory during his address, saying he understands the differences of opinion that have bitterly divided the country and offering to seek a compromise with his political opponents.

But he was also defiant, saying his opponents were bent on toppling him and lashing out at the scores of military reservists who say they will stop reporting for duty if the plan is passed. Some have already quit.

“The refusal to serve threatens the security of every citizen of Israel,” he said.

Parliament is expected to vote Monday on a bill that would curtail the Supreme Court’s oversight powers by limiting its ability to strike down decisions it deems “unreasonable.” The reasonability standard is meant as a safeguard to protect against corruption and improper appointments of unqualified people.

The bill is one of several keystone pieces of the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul plan. Netanyahu and his allies — a collection of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties — say the plan is needed to curb what they consider excessive powers of unelected judges.

Critics say the legislation will concentrate power in the hands of Netanyahu and his far-right allies and undermine the country’s system of checks and balance. They also say Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, has a conflict of interest.

The proposal has bitterly divided the Israeli public and attracted appeals from U.S. President Joe Biden for Netanyahu to slow down and forge a broad national consensus before passing any legislation.

After Netanyahu’s speech, opposition leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to defy his coalition allies and halt the legislation.

“This extremist group has no mandate to turn Israel into a messianic and non-democratic state,” Lapid said. “The Netanyahu government is waging a war of attrition against the citizens of Israel.”

Perhaps the biggest threat to the plan are growing calls by military reservists who say they will stop reporting for duty in key units. They include fighter pilots, commandos and cyberwar officers.

Israeli leaders and military commanders have expressed growing alarm, saying the refusals to serve could hurt the country’s security. Reservists, whose service is voluntary, make up the backbone of Israel’s military.

On Thursday, the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency, Nadav Argaman, voiced support for the reservists.

“We need to stop this legislation by any means,” he told the Army Radio station, saying the reservists “are very concerned and fearful for the security of the state of Israel.”

Argaman was appointed head of the Shin Bet by Netanyahu in 2016 and stepped down in 2021.

Netanyahu said the refusals to serve undermined Israel’s democratic institutions, in which the army is subordinate to the government and not the other way around. “If they succeed in carrying out their threats, that is a blow to democracy,” he said.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have joined mass protests against the overhaul since it was proposed in January, and business leaders have said that a weaker judiciary will drive international investors away.

In Tel Aviv, movement leaders staged a “night of resistance,” marching through the city’s streets, beating drums and blaring horns. Police used water cannons to clear protesters from a major highway.

The movement has also begun to shift its focus from Tel Aviv, where weekly demonstrations draw tens of thousands, to Jerusalem, where the parliament is set to vote next week.

Hundreds of protesters packed up rows of small white tents and continued a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, where they plan to camp outside parliament ahead of the vote.

Protesters flocked outside the home of the chairman of the Histadrut, Israel’s national labor union. The Histadrut ordered a strike in March, leading Netanyahu to freeze the overhaul. Netanyahu revived the plan last month after talks seeking compromise with opposition lawmakers failed. But the union has yet to authorize another strike.

After Netanyahu’s statement, movement leaders vowed further escalation. “We call on all those who care about Israel’s future as a democracy to take to the streets,” said Josh Drill, a protest spokesman.

Presidents of major Israeli universities said they would hold a strike Sunday to protest the bill, according to reports from Israeli media. Doctors held a two-hour “warning strike” Wednesday to protest the overhaul, which they said would wreak havoc on the healthcare system by granting politicians greater control over public health.

They vowed more severe measures if the bill is voted through.

The judicial overhaul plan was announced shortly after Netanyahu took office as prime minister following November’s parliamentary elections. It was Israel’s fifth election in under four years, with all of the votes serving as a referendum on his leadership while facing legal charges.

Critics say removing the reasonability standard would allow the government to appoint unqualified cronies to important positions without oversight. They also say that it could clear the way for Netanyahu to fire the current attorney general — seen by supporters as a bulwark against the overhaul plan — or appoint legal officials who could ease his way out of the corruption charges he is facing in an ongoing trial.

Netanyahu now heads the country’s most ultranationalist and religiously conservative government in Israel’s 75-year history.

(AP)

Source link

#Defiant #Netanyahu #vows #press #ahead #key #vote #contentious #judicial #reform