Day: April 17, 2019



LIMA, Peru — Former Peruvian President Alan Garcia died Wednesday after shooting himself in the head moments after police attempted to detain him amid corruption allegations in Latin America’s largest graft probe.

President Martin Vizcarra announced on Twitter that Garcia died after undergoing emergency surgery hours earlier. Doctors at the Jose Casimiro Ulloa Hospital in the capital city of Lima said they provided cardiac resuscitation three times while trying to save his life.

“Distraught over the death of ex-President Alan Garcia,” Vizcarra wrote. “I send my condolences to his family and loved ones.”

The shocking end for the man who twice ruled Peru but more recently was ensnared in the Odebrecht corruption scandal comes amid national upheaval over endemic corruption involving nearly every former living president.

Garcia repeatedly professed his innocence and said he was the victim of false testimony by political enemies who accused him of taking more than $100,000 from the Brazilian construction giant. Odebrecht admitted in a 2016 plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that it paid nearly $800 million throughout Latin America in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.

The 69-year-old former head of state’s attorney accused authorities Wednesday of neglecting to provide Garcia information on why he was being detained or show their official identifications when they showed up to arrest him.

“The president, upset over this situation, knowing his absolute innocence … had this terrible accident,” attorney Erasmo Reyna said.

Interior Minister Carlos Moran said police found Garcia on the second floor of his home when they arrived. He asked for a moment to call his lawyer, entering a bedroom of the leafy mansion in Miraflores and closing the door behind him.

“Minutes later the sound of gunfire was heard,” Moran said. “Police forced their way into the room and found him.”

He was immediately transported to the hospital, arriving at 6:45 a.m. local time. A team of doctors, some called from outside hospitals, began operating at 7:10 a.m., according to Peru’s health ministry.

The director of the Casimiro Ulloa Emergency Hospital and head of the Orthopaedic Department, Enrique Eladio Gutierrez, speaks to the press outside the hospital in Lima as Peruvian ex-president Alan Garcia is undergoing emergency surgery on April 17, 2019 after shooting himself in the head at his home as police were about to arrest him in a sprawling corruption case. (LUKA GONZALES/AFP/Getty Images)

“The situation is very critical,” Health Minister Zulema Tomas said shortly after the incident. “It’s grave.”

The stunning turn of events comes four months after Garcia tried to seek asylum in Uruguay as prosecutors in Peru investigated allegations he illegally took payments from Odebrecht. He remained there for a little more than two weeks before having his request denied. In rejecting his claim, the South American nation’s embassy said there was no evidence to support Garcia’s contention that he was being targeted politically.

“In Peru, the three branches of government function freely and autonomously, especially in the case of judicial power,” Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez said.

Peru has gone further than any other country outside Brazil in prosecuting politicians tied to the Odebrecht probe. All but one living former head of state is being investigated for corruption tied to the scandal.

Just last week, former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was also detained for alleged money laundering tied to the probe. Congressional allies said he was taken Tuesday night to a local clinic with high blood pressure.

On Wednesday, Alberto Quintanilla, a congressman from the left-leaning political party Nuevo Peru, expressed solidarity with the family of Garcia and said that he hoped officials “would advance knowledge of the truth” through their investigations, but also respect due process.

Garcia was a populist firebrand whose erratic first presidency in the 1980s was marked by hyperinflation, rampant corruption and the rise of the Shining Path guerrilla movement.

When he returned to power two decades later he ran a more conservative government, helping usher in a commodities-led investment boom in which Odebrecht played a major supporting role.

A judicial order obtained by The Associated Press shows Judge Juan Sanchez ordered authorities to arrest Garcia and search for documents in his home related to money laundering allegations.

Prosecutors suspect the former president received more than $100,000 from Odebrecht, disguised as a payment to speak at a conference in Brazil.

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Judge OKs streaming video of trial in Chinese scholar death

URBANA, Ill. — Video of the trial of a former University of Illinois student accused of killing a Chinese scholar will be streamed from a federal courthouse to a viewing room near campus.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports U.S. District Judge James Shadid on Tuesday approved the request “to accommodate members of the public and the victim’s family.”

The closed-circuit video will stream from the trial in Peoria to a viewing room at the Urbana courthouse, about 90 miles (144 kilometres) away.

Brendt Christensen’s trial is scheduled to begin June 3. He is accused of luring Yingying Zhang into his car before torturing and killing her in June 2017. Her body hasn’t been found.

Her family’s Urbana-based attorney, Steve Beckett, says the family is planning to return to Illinois from China for the trial.


Information from: The News-Gazette,

The Associated Press

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Judge orders mulligan on lobbying probe that cleared Aga Khan for Trudeau family vacation

Welcome to a sneak peek of the Maclean’s Politics Insider newsletter. Sign-up at the bottom of the page to get it delivered straight to your inbox.

For a change, the polls were right. Alberta voters delivered a decisive majority to UCP leader Jason Kenney, bringing an end to the province’s brief dalliance with Rachel Notley’s NDP.  As of last night the UCP held 63 seats to the NDP’s 24. Even with close to 700,000 advanced ballots still waiting to be counted, Kenney’s place as Alberta’s 18th premier.

Alberta unbound: So what did Albertans just order up for themselves? Vengeance, writes Jason Markusoff:

Jason Kenney just completed a three-year series of gruelling slugfests to reach this point. He seized the crown of the once-mighty Alberta Progressive Conservatives, fused them with their old Wildrose Party foes, kamikazed his way to leadership of the new United Conservative Party, rejected several would-be UCP candidates with bigoted or intolerant views (but tolerated a few), and dispatched with the NDP on Tuesday night to claim the premier’s office for himself and his cherished Sir Thomas More portrait.

After all that, what did Kenney win, with his majority UCP government? A chance to fulfil his promises for four more years of endless pugilism in the name of Alberta, and of getting more of its residents back to work.

He’ll fight provinces like B.C. and Quebec, who are unwilling to welcome bitumen pipelines. He’ll fight environmentalists in courts of law and public opinion with an “energy war room.” He’ll fight international banks who don’t want to the reputational harm of financing pipelines or oil sands projects. He’ll fight city councils mulling lawsuits against oil companies to recoup the costs of climate change. And, hold on to your socks, he’ll fight Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals, who ended Kenney’s cabinet career and set him on his current provincial trajectory.

Are Albertans game for a premier who balls his fists for the next couple of years? You’re damn right they are, after richly rewarding his campaign fuelled on anger, revenge and the expectation all this and some actual government policy will bring back the economic boom times to which Alberta had grown accustomed. (Maclean’s)

Here’s how Alberta’s election map looks right now, with results from the advanced polls still to come later today. (Maclean’s)

Maybe Aga can’t after all: Back in Ottawa, Tuesday was already going to be an uncomfortable day for Trudeau, what with the impending election of yet another bellicose conservative premier dead set on preventing his re-election. Then the Federal Court potentially cast another dark pall over Trudeau ahead of this fall’s vote—a judge has ordered the lobbying commissioner to take a second look at whether the Aga Khan violated the rules by treating Trudeau and his family to a vacation on his private island in the Bahamas. In 2017 the former commissioner, Karen Shepherd, dismissed the matter, arguing that even though the Aga Khan sits on the board of a foundation that lobbies the federal government, the fact he didn’t get paid for that position meant he wasn’t a lobbyist. The judge quashed that decision, calling it “unreasonable,” and sent the matter back to current commissioner Nancy Bélanger to be reexamined. First, though, her office is waiting to see if new Attorney General David Lametti will appeal the ruling. (CBC News)

Free the emails: Sticking with the theme of inconvenient court cases dangling over the Prime Minister, lawyers representing Vice-Admiral Mark Norman in his breach of trust case are in court this week fighting for the release of 29 memos, reports and emails involving the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office. Norman’s lawyers argue the charges, related to a $670-million shipbuilding deal, are politically motivated and that the documents could reveal evidence of political interference by Trudeau’s advisers. (National Post)

Ford v. Trudeau, Day 2: A day after a panel of judges grilled lawyers for Ontario in that province’s court challenge against the federal carbon tax, it was Ottawa’s turn to face tough questions from the bench, like “Why don’t you just leave them alone?” That was Ontario Court of Appeal Justice James MacPherson‘s question to one federal lawyer, after noting Ontario had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 22 per cent since 2005, thanks to a decision by previous Liberal governments to close coal-fired generating plants. Said MacPherson: “We don’t care how they achieved it.” (National Observer)

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No conflict of interest violations found during integrity commissioner investigation on O’Leary

Owen Sound’s integrity commissioner has cleared Deputy-mayor Brian O’Leary of all conflict of interest allegations it investigated in relation to his connection to Mudtown Station.

Principles Integrity presented its findings, contained in a 13-page report, to council Monday.

“I really appreciate everything the integrity commissioners did. They went through a lot of work to get to this. But, what they found out was what I already knew,” O’Leary said in an interview. “That’s my only comment.”

The investigation by Principles Integrity took about 30 hours and will cost the city about $6,000.

While O’Leary didn’t comment on the findings during the meeting, several councillors did, with Coun. Travis Dodd saying he wanted to apologize to O’Leary, on behalf of Owen Sound residents, for the “hardships these accusations have placed” on the deputy-mayor and his family. He said the investigation took a financial and personal toll on O’Leary.

“In this particular case, it was easy after the fact to take a series of unconnected events to create your own story. And, as this report has identified, the story that was created was just that, a story,” he said.

Coun. John Tamming called the allegations “fairly trivial by any measure” and questioned why they warranted a full investigation instead of an informal resolution.

Janice Atwood-Petkovski of Principles Integrity said the complaints, on their face, contained questions that warranted a look.

“There was no willingness, whatsoever, to find an informal resolution in this matter. We therefore pursued the investigation. In our view, this certainly was not a matter that was easily categorized as trivial or, as litigation lawyers like to talk about, frivolous and vexatious,” she said.

The conflict of interest complaint, filed Sept. 20, 2018, related to several concerns about O’Leary’s participation in matters before council respecting Mudtown Station, a restaurant and brewery that is operated at the city-owned former Canadian Pacific Railway station.

Council approved in April 2017 a staff-negotiated, 15-year agreement with Mudtown Station Inc. to lease the building, which Owen Sound purchased in 2010.

The agreement stated, in part, that Mudtown Station would spend $735,000 on the property, including $400,000 on brewing and restaurant equipment. The city agreed to spend $615,085 on interior and parking lot upgrades and would recoup all but $161,000 of that investment through 20 years of Mudtown’s rental payments.

O’Leary purchased shares in Mudtown Station in August 2018.

The complaint to the integrity commissioner alleged O’Leary, who was a councillor at the time, had a conflict of interest when, as a prospective shareholder of the business, he participated in council’s vote in April 2017 on the Mudtown lease, the report says.

The complainant alleged O’Leary had already formed the intent to become a shareholder of Mudtown Station when that vote took place, it says.

The commissioner found there is “no basis to conclude” O’Leary had a conflict of interest in dealing with the lease.

“If the councillor had been a shareholder in Mudtown Station Inc. at the time of the report, there is no doubt he would have had a conflict of interest under the MCIA (Municipal Conflict of Interest Act),” the report says.

However, “we find that the councillor did not have a conflict of interest when council considered the lease in April 2017 as he did not acquire shares in Mudtown Station until August 2018, some 16 months later.”

The complaint also alleged O’Leary, while a Mudtown Station shareholder, had a conflict of interest as a result of decisions by town staff to promote the business in its Corkscrew City tours promotion, on a shared billboard advertisement and in Escape to Grey Bruce magazine.

The integrity commissioner found no conflict of interest occurred since those decisions did not come to council.

The complaint alleged O’Leary also had a conflict when, as a shareholder of Mudtown Station, he moved a motion on Sept. 10, 2018, to direct staff to investigate a fifth-lane design for the 10th Street bridge that would cause traffic to pass in front of Mudtown Station.

The integrity commissioner found Mudtown Station did not have a pecuniary interest in that matter, so O’Leary, as a shareholder, could not have had an indirect interest.

“Even if we were to find that traffic rerouting were to cause additional vehicles to pass by Mudtown Station, we are unable to find that Mudtown Station thereby has any particular pecuniary interest in the bridge reconstruction matter before council aside from an interest in common with all of the businesses in the downtown and harbour area which will ultimately benefit from an uplift in tourism generally,” the report says.

The commissioner recommended council receive its report for information and post it to the city’s website.

The report urges council to revise its code of conduct to include a conflict of interest provision, but says even if it contained one now, the commissioner would not have found O’Leary to have violated such a provision based on the allegations investigated.

Last fall, ahead of the municipal election, concerns and allegations were raised in the community and posted to social media related to the city’s investment in the CP station, its lease agreement with Mudtown Station and the links O’Leary had to the business.

The concerns prompted city manager Wayne Ritchie to hold a press conference Oct. 10 during which he said he believed all conflict of interest guidelines had been followed and defended the city’s investment.

Tamming, a lawyer, questioned at Monday’s meeting how and why the complaints passed “triage” to warrant a full investigation. He said he was able to determine after an 18-minute review that the complaints were without merit.

“I am very disappointed that this was not subject to what I understand is available to the commissioner, which is more of an informal complaint procedure,” he said.

Atwood-Petkovski said an informal resolution is only an option when both the complainant and respondent are receptive to pursuing one.


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CLEARWATER, Fla. — A Florida jury on Tuesday found a man guilty of first-degree murder for dropping his 5-year-old daughter off a bridge four years ago, despite arguments from his attorneys that he was insane and thought his actions would actually save her. He was automatically sentenced to life in prison.

Jurors in Clearwater, Florida, deliberated for about seven hours over two days before convicting John Jonchuck, whom prosecutors portrayed as a vengeful man who planned to kill his daughter to keep her away from her mother and grandmother.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that no one from Jonchuck’s family was in the courtroom when the verdict was announced. And no friends or relatives spoke on behalf of Phoebe or her father before the sentencing. Jonchuck, who was stoic when the verdict was read, hugged his attorneys and said, “Yes, your honour,” when asked if he understood that the verdict carries an automatic life sentence. He was then fingerprinted and taken out of the courtroom by bailiffs.

Jonchuck’s lawyers had asked the judge to delay sentencing for a week because they have some issues to check. But when they failed to provide a reason, Judge Chris Helinger proceeded with the sentencing.

“I am satisfied that justice was done,” the newspaper quoted Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe as saying. “My immediate reaction is killing children doesn’t make one a very sympathetic character.”

The judge thanked jurors for their attention during the monthlong trial. “There’s no way I can express my appreciation for your service,” she said. “I’ve never had a trial this long and I’ve been here about 12 years as a judge.”

Defendant John Jonchuck is directed by a Pinellas County Sheriff deputy to the finger print area after a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Clearwater, Fla.

No one disputed that Jonchuck, now 29, dropped his daughter Phoebe 62 feet (18 metres) into Tampa Bay in January 2015, and that he had a long history of mental problems.

But prosecutors claimed his action was premeditated. Assistant state attorney Paul Bolan told jurors that Jonchuck was motivated by anger over worries that Phoebe’s mother was going to take the girl away from him and his own mother’s doting attention to her granddaughter when she had been inattentive to him growing up.

“It was rage that drove him to it on top of that bridge,” Bolan said. “Did he know what he was doing, and did he know it was wrong? The answer is clearly yes.”

But assistant public defender Jessica Manuele told jurors Jonchuck loved Phoebe more than anything else in the world and that there’s no evidence he acted out of “unbridled anger.”

His delusions led him to believe Phoebe was possessed and that the archangel, Michael, was coming, Manuele said. He poured salt outside her window to keep spirits away, she said.

At the moment he threw her off the bridge, “he thought he was protecting his daughter,” Manuele said. “It will never make sense because it’s insanity.”

Twelve hours before Phoebe’s death, Jonchuck’s divorce lawyer, Genevieve Torres, called a state child protection hotline, fearing for the girl’s safety, authorities said.

Torres told the Department of Children and Families operator that Jonchuck had driven to three churches in his pyjamas with Phoebe in tow that morning, called Torres “God” and asked her to translate his stepmother’s century-old Swedish Bible, which he carried and had become obsessed with. Jonchuck was also paranoid that Phoebe wasn’t his child, Torres said.

But the operator thought the attorney was more worried about Jonchuck’s safety than the girl’s and did not report the call to authorities, they said.

Just after midnight the next day, Jonchuck’s PT Cruiser raced past officer William Vickers, who was heading home from a shift in his patrol car. He started following Jonchuck, but never got close enough to read the license plate and didn’t know Phoebe was inside, authorities have said.

As they reached the bridge’s crest, Jonchuck stopped and got out. Vickers, fearing an ambush, stopped behind him, pulled his gun and yelled at Jonchuck to show his hands. He saw no weapon.

Jonchuck yelled at the officer, “You have no free will.” He grabbed Phoebe from the back seat, held her over the side momentarily and then dropped her, according to police accounts.

Jonchuck drove off but was soon arrested. Vickers scrambled down a ladder to a dock below the bridge but couldn’t see Phoebe in the dark water. A marine rescue boat was summoned, and her body was found hours later.

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