Friday, August 3, 2007

China: 1,800 officials admit to graft

Undated photo of Zheng Xiaoyu, China's former head of the food and drug watchdog who was executed last month for corruption

Chinese officials admit to graft

Almost 1,800 officials confessed to corruption in June, a Chinese Communist Party watchdog has announced.
The officials were taking advantage of a month-long leniency offer that began on 30 May, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said.
Over the month, 1,790 people confessed to corruption totalling 77.89m yuan ($10.2m, £5m), a spokesman said.
China has been working hard to tackle official corruption, which has become a major trigger for public discontent.
"Some of the officials have corrected their mistakes and some are still under investigation, since we need to check whether they have confessed all their wrongdoings," CCDI spokesman Gan Yisheng said.
No details were given of what penalties the officials who confessed might face, Xinhua news agency said.
But Mr Gan said corrupt officials who had not confessed would face severe punishment, the agency reported.
Public anger
Corruption is one of the Communist Party's biggest problems and the thing that ordinary people criticise most bitterly, says the BBC's James Reynolds in Beijing.

Chinese gamers at an internet cafe in Shanghai (file photo)
Chinese gamers have embraced a game that tackles corrupt officials

He says they complain about officials with gold watches, driving around in black Mercedes, getting fat on bribes and free lunches and handing out all the best jobs to their friends and family.
Now, our correspondent says, Chinese President Hu Jintao wants to show that he is taking action, particularly with the party's key five-yearly congress looming.
Last week, the Communist Party's former leader in Shanghai, Chen Liangyu, was expelled from the party, and may now face charges, after he was linked to a pensions fund scandal that has also implicated other senior officials.
His expulsion follows the execution last month of Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of the country's food and drug watchdog who was convicted of taking bribes to approve products.
But corruption is widespread, affecting local and provincial administrations, as well as the central government.
The popularity of an online game that allows players to eradicate corrupt officials illustrates the depth of feeling among ordinary people over the issue of graft.
The game, entitled "Incorruptible Fighter", was launched just over a week ago.
Since then, it has been downloaded more then 100,000 times and is in such demand that its website has crashed, state media reported.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

US: FBI searches senator's house

Ted Stevens: Longest-serving Republican senator in history

FBI searches US senator's house

Federal agents in the United States have searched the Alaska home of veteran Republican Senator Ted Stevens as part of an inquiry into corruption.
FBI and Internal revenue Service agents entered the house to investigate Sen Stevens's ties to the jailed head of an oil service company, Bill Allen.
Mr Allen was sentenced this year after admitting to bribing state legislators.
Sen Stevens, 83, who is up for re-election next year, has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
He is being investigated for his links to Mr Allen, who was the chief executive of Veco, the biggest oil service company in Alaska.
In May, Mr Allen and another Veco executive Rick Smith pleaded guilty to several corruption charges, including paying more than $400,000 to bribe Alaskan legislators.
Contractors have told a federal grand jury that Mr Allen oversaw a project that doubled the size of Sen Stevens's home in the Alaskan ski resort of Girdwood.
Sen Stevens has said that money for the remodelling of his house came out of his own pocket.
Sen Stevens, who has been in office since 1968 and an influential member of Congress for many years, said he would not comment on the search.
"I continue to believe this investigation should proceed to its conclusion without any appearance that I have attempted to influence its outcome," he said in a statement.
He is among more than a dozen current and former members of Congress who have come under federal scrutiny over allegations regarding their links to lobbyists, defence contractors and other business interests.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/07/31 10:52:54 GMT

Investigators searched inside and outside the house

Senator Stevens's Igloo

New York Sun Editorial
August 2, 2007

Senator Stevens is finding himself in hot water. The FBI raided the Republican's residence in Girdwood, Alaska, looking for evidence on his relationship with an oil-field-service contractor by the name of Bill Allen. Allen, who was been convicted this year of bribing state legislators, oversaw a 2000 renovation project that more than doubled the size of Mr. Stevens's house; Allen's company, VECO Corp., has reaped millions of dollars in federal contracts over the years.
Though the matter must await the outcome of the law-enforcement process, a note of caution is in order. It has been corruption more than any other issue that has dragged the Republican Party down in recent years. Having been given a majority in 1994 to root out the corruption of the Democratic Congress, all too many Republicans who came to Washington to do good stayed to do well. Despite the war, "corruption/ethics" ranked highest in voters minds, according to exit polls, when voters threw the GOP out of power.
Mr. Stevens has become a symbol of Republican susceptibility to pork, particularly the idea that taxpayers should be forced to disgorge a half a billion dollars so that a "Bridge to Nowhere" could be constructed connecting two chunks of ice in Alaska, one uninhabited. He even threatened to resign should his favored earmark be removed from the budget. The FBI investigation could yet force his resignation for different reasons. But we're not so focused on who paid for the ice in the Stevens igloo. The real scandal is not what's illegal but what's legal Â-- namely the earmarks that grew a mind-boggling tenfold on the Republican watch.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Japan: Scandal-hit minister quits

Mr Akagi said he bore partial responsibility for the poll result
Mr Akagi apologises

Scandal-hit Japan minister quits

Japan's scandal-hit agriculture minister is to step down following the ruling coalition's crushing defeat in Sunday's upper house polls.
Norihiko Akagi, who is accused of financial irregularities, offered his resignation and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accepted it, a spokesman said.
A number of Mr Abe's ministers have been hit by scandal, an issue seen as a key factor in his party's poll defeat.
The premier has pledged to reshuffle his Cabinet in the wake of the polls.
Mr Akagi said he was partly to blame for the defeat.
"There were various reports about me during the upper house election campaign," he said.
"It is an undisputed fact that these were partly responsible for the defeat of the ruling coalition."
Mr Akagi, who is accused of misreporting office expenses, was appointed only two months ago. His predecessor, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, committed suicide in May over a separate funding scandal.
Two more of Mr Abe's ministers have been forced to step down in recent months, causing many voters to question his leadership skills.
'Senseless conduct'
But the prime minister has so far resisted calls for his resignation in the wake of Sunday's elections, which saw control of the upper chamber wrested from his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-led ruling coalition.
The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) made huge gains, becoming for the first time in its history the largest party in the upper house.
The LDP still controls the more powerful lower house and the party has continued to back Mr Abe - in part, some experts say, due to the absence of a suitable candidate to replace him.
The premier has stated that he plans to continue with an agenda of reform.
But according to the latest opinion polls, almost half of the public want him to step down.
About 47% of respondents wanted him to resign, the Asahi newspaper said, while the Yomiuri newspaper put the figure at 45%.
On Tuesday, DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa hit out at Mr Abe's decision to stay.
He was "trying to get away with such senseless conduct, trying to keep his cabinet in charge even after his party lost the majority", he said.
"I don't think he will gain people's support and understanding by doing something so selfish."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/08/01 04:07:10 GMT

Iraq: Corruption 'mars Iraq rebuilding'

Corruption 'mars Iraq rebuilding'
Reports of widespread fraud and waste of funds in Iraq

Bowen interview

The US agency overseeing reconstruction in Iraq has told the BBC that economic mismanagement and corruption there are equivalent to "a second insurgency".
The chief auditor assigned by Congress, Stuart Bowen, said the Iraqi government was failing to take responsibility for projects worth billions of dollars.
Mr Bowen also said his agency was investigating more than 50 fraud cases.
Meanwhile, nearly a third of Iraq's population is in need of emergency aid, a report by Oxfam and Iraqi NGOs says.
The report said the Iraqi government was failing to provide basic essentials such as water, food, sanitation and shelter for up to eight million people.
It warned that the continuing violence was masking a humanitarian crisis that had escalated since the US-led invasion in 2003.
On Monday, six people were killed and at least 12 injured in a car bomb attack in Baghdad. The US military also announced the deaths of three of its soldiers in the western province of Anbar.
US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen was appointed to audit $44bn (£22bn) allocated since 2003, after reports of widespread fraud and waste.
The agency publishes quarterly reports on the situation, most of which have complained about a serious lack of progress. Monday's report was no different.

Millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee the violence, either to another part of Iraq or abroad - many of those are living in dire poverty
Jeremy Hobbs
Director of Oxfam International
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Bowen said corruption was endemic and described it as "an enemy of democracy".
He added: "We have performed 95 audits that have found instances of programmatic weakness and waste, and we've got 57 ongoing cases right now, criminal cases, looking at fraud."
Mr Bowen said the transfer of projects to Iraqi government control was "troubling", and expressed concern about delays and cost overruns.
The report gave the example of the Doura power station, rebuilt with tens of millions of US dollars, which fell into disrepair once it was transferred to Iraqi control.
Mr Bowen also said Iraqi ministries were struggling to administer funds.
Last year, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's government only spent 22% of its budget on vital rebuilding projects, while spending 99% of the allocation for salaries, he said.
He said "a pathway towards potential prosperity" could be found only if oil production was brought up to optimal levels, and security and corruption effectively managed.
'Ruined by war'
The Iraqi parliament has now adjourned until 4 September, despite US calls for it to remain in session and pass already-delayed legislation.
The recess means parliament will reconvene just days before America's top commander in Iraq, Army Gen David Petraeus, reports to Congress on the US troop "surge" strategy.

Adobe Acrobat Reader.

His assessment will likely provide the backdrop to the next round of war spending.
The BBC's Nicholas Witchell in Baghdad says the report by the UK-based charity and the NGO Co-ordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI) makes alarming reading.
The survey recognises that armed conflict is the greatest problem facing Iraqis, but finds a population "increasingly threatened by disease and malnutrition".
It suggests that 70% of Iraq's 26.5m population are without adequate water supplies, compared to 50% prior to the invasion. Only 20% have access to effective sanitation.
Nearly 30% of children are malnourished, a sharp increase on the situation four years ago. Some 15% of Iraqis regularly cannot afford to eat.
The report also said 92% of Iraq's children suffered from learning problems.
It found that more than two million people have been displaced inside the country, while a further two million have fled to neighbouring countries.
On Thursday, an international conference in Jordan pledged to help the refugees with their difficulties. Oxfam has not operated in Iraq since 2003 for security reasons.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/07/30 14:51:55 GMT