Judge Lets Anti-Corruption Case Against Donald Trump Move Forward

Washington, United States: A lawsuit that accuses President Donald Trump of violating the constitution by maintaining his interest in a hotel that does business with foreign governments has been allowed to proceed by a US judge.

It marked the first time a judge has interpreted anti-corruption clauses in the constitution known as emoluments clauses and applied them to a sitting president, news reports said.

US District Judge Robert Messitte in Maryland ruled Wednesday that the case -- which centers on money Trump makes from the Trump International Hotel in Washington -- can now move to the evidence-gathering stage.

If the ruling stands -- the Justice Department can appeal -- it would mean the plaintiffs will seek to examine Trump business records.

Trump has refused to disclose such information and in particular his income tax returns, in a break with the practice of previous presidents.

The clauses at stake bar a president from receiving financial benefits from foreign or domestic governments.

The plaintiffs in the case are the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia, as Washington is known.

They say Trump violates the clauses by profiting from the hotel, which is just down the street from the White House and popular with foreign and US state government delegations.

"Sole or substantial ownership of a business that receives hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year in revenue from one of its hotel properties where foreign and domestic governments are known to stay (often with the express purpose of cultivating the president's good graces) most definitely raises the potential for undue influence, and would be well within the contemplation of the clauses," Judge Messitte wrote.

The Justice Department had sought to have the case thrown out on grounds the clauses did not apply to the hotel.

It argued that the clauses were designed to prevent a president from taking bribes, not from engaging in business.

But the judge ruled that this was too narrow an interpretation of what an emolument is.

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Brazil's Supreme Court rules ex-President Lula can be jailed for corruption

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva can be jailed on corruption charges, the Supreme Court has ruled. The move would apparently block Lula's reelection bid, despite strong public support.

The Supreme Federal Court (STF) has voted 6-5 to deny Lula's plea and ruled he must start serving a 12-year prison sentence for graft. According to the ruling, Lula may now be arrested at any time and will likely not be allowed to run for president in October. The decision is the latest step in a series of actions in Brazil, which critics of the current government describe as a creeping right-wing takeover of the nation's democratic institutions.

The popular 72-year-old politician, who is leading in all polls ahead of the October presidential election, was convicted of money laundering and passive corruption last July. The court's decision apparently blocks da Silva's expected return to politics. He says his legal troubles are a result of the machinations of his political opponents.

Commonly known as Lula, the Brazilian Workers' Party icon recently spoke on an RT Spanish show hosted by former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, where he argued that corruption charges are just a tool used by his political opponents to target people in the leftist camp, including himself.

"The right wing has always used corruption to attack the left. This happened with the fascists and Nazis. This happened when [President] Getúlio Vargas killed himself in Brazil, and that's why [President Juan] Peron fled Argentina. Corruption charges are an instrument in the moral and ethical fight against opponents," he said.

Declaring himself a victim of political persecution, Lula told his supporters in Rio de Janeiro on Monday that his struggle is a continuation of the fight against the former dictatorship of 1964-1985. The possibility of his return to power has driven his supporters, as well as his opponents, onto the streets ahead of the Supreme Court's decision.

Crowds flooded the streets of several Brazilian cities calling for the politician's imprisonment for corruption and money laundering. People chanted "Lula in jail," while others staged a performance with a person dressed as Lula sitting behind bars. Others rushed to defend the leftist politician, calling his potential incarceration an attack on democracy.

The social split follows a downturn in the Brazilian economy, which has shrunk since Lula left power in 2011. Brazilians are also trying to recover from the impeachment of da Silva's protégé, former President Dilma Rousseff, who was herself ousted in 2016 for manipulating the federal budget to hide the nation's growing economic crisis. Her supporters, including Lula, called the impeachment a parliamentary coup.

"Straight away I realized that they would never let me run in 2018, because they impeached Dilma, and they did not want me to return two years after she was deposed," he told RT in the interview. "And then, Rafael, lies swept across Brazil. There is a conspiracy in Brazil between the media, the judiciary, the prosecution service and police."

Rousseff's departure ended 13 years of the leftist Workers' Party hold on government, which was at first characterized by a soaring economy and the movement of millions into the middle class.

Lula was initially sentenced to nine years in jail, and an appeals court in January upheld the ruling, increasing the sentence to 12 years. While Lula's defense has no power to reverse the conviction and obtain an acquittal of the former president (who held the office from 2003 to 2011), it still has the option of appealing to the Regional Federal Court of the 4th Region (TRF-4), which passed the 12-year sentence.

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Nearly half of Israelis believe police over Netanyahu regarding PM’s corruption – poll

Nearly half of Israeli voters believe the police corruption allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, according to a recent survey.

The Reshet TV poll asked people whether they believed the police, who claim that Netanyahu improperly accepted expensive gifts from businessmen and conspired with the owner of Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Reuters reports. Around 49 percent say they side with the police and their version, while a quarter say they believe the prime minister, who denies the allegations. The remaining 26 percent said they could not decide.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu © Amir Cohen

The survey comes after police recently recommended that Netanyahu be indicted over claims of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, following more than a year of investigation. Police said they gathered sufficient evidence to start legal proceedings against the premier in two separate probes – Case 1000 and Case 2000. Although the recommendations were submitted to the attorney general, it may take months before the decision is made.

Case 1000 alleges that Netanyahu, along with his wife Sara, received lavish gifts worth thousands of dollars from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer in exchange for favors. The other probe revolves around suspicions of Netanyahu conspiring with the owner of the top-selling Israeli newspaper Arnon Mozes to gain more positive coverage of himself.

The prime minister has repeatedly denied the “baseless” allegations, saying the investigation “will end with nothing.” Following the police announcement, Netanyahu said he will continue to do his job “responsibly and loyally.”

@RT_com Netanyahu maintains innocence as Israeli police edge closer to indicting PM for corruption https://on.rt.com/8ynt

When asked whether the prime minister should temporarily step down, nearly half (49 percent) of the 495 respondents said Netanyahu should stay in office, while 43 percent said he should leave. However, Israeli law does not require a leader to step down in the case of indictment. As for whether the investigation was designed to oust Netanyahu, 38 percent thought it was, while 44 did not.

READ MORE: Netanyahu says ‘attempts to topple’ him will fail as leader suspected of fraud & bribery – media

The probes were launched in December 2016 and have later grown into a source of public outrage, with thousands protesting what they called “Crime Minister”. Late last year, the protest movement was given a boost by Israeli lawmakers, who passed a law aimed at scrapping the procedure of police recommendations to the attorney general. The bill, however, was watered down so that it would not apply to current investigations, including Netanyahu’s.

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Impeachment of Ecuador's Jorge Glas 'Far From Finished'

While significant progress was made on Tuesday with the appointment of Judge Manuel Viter, the process still requires an inordinate amount of work to get underway.

Ecuador's Legislative Administrative Council (CAL) is taking steps to fast-track moves to have former Vice-President Jorge Glas impeached in the shortest possible time, according to reports, but one analyst warns the task will be difficult to complete.

RELATED: Ecuador: Impeachment of VP Jorge Glas Begins

According to an article by Diego Puente in El Comercio, even if the process was completed in shortest possible time, it would take at least 28 days according to the rules established in the Organic Law of the Legislative Function and the Law of Jurisdictional Guarantees.

This estimate doesn't take into consideration that there is no fixed time for some stages of the impeachment proceedings, nor does it consider legal moves by Glas to have them delayed or even halted altogether.

https://www.telesurtv.net/export/sites/telesur/img/news/2017/12/20/2017-12-14t005515z_105379453_rc1bd9eff820_rtrmadp_3_ecuador-politics.jpg_224869522.jpg             Supporters of Jorge Glas during his trial for corruption involving Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, in Quito, Ecuador, December 13.

While significant progress was made Tuesday with the appointment of Judge Manuel Viteri, mandated to give a ruling on the constitutionality of the move by December 22, the process still requires an inordinate amount of work to get underway.

Roberto Gomez, from the Creo movement against the suspended vice-president, must present a case which will then be analysed to consider whether it falls in line with the parameters established in the constitution for impeachment. 

After Viteri reviews and prepares the draft constitutional opinion of the trial request, the President of the Court will convene a plenary session within 24 hours.

The judgment from this meeting will be issued within 48 hours of the presentation of the project and must be approved by two-thirds of the members of the Plenary (at least six of nine votes). 

If the Constitutional Court issues a favorable opinion, President of the Assembly José Serrano will inform the Legislative Administration Council (CAL), for the start of processing, with the case being sent to the Supervisory Commission.

Glas has been in preventive detention since October. On January 2 he will meet the 90 days of imprisonment established by law, so in the first instance the case would opt to remove him for the abandonment of his position rather than impeachment, which would delay the process.

Glas was elected vice-president in the second electoral round last April, with President Lenin Moreno as leader of the left-wing Alianza País. 

RELATED: Ecuador: Correa Warns Coup Underway as Moreno Orders 'Unconstitutional' Referendum Vote

Reacting on Twitter last Wednesday, former president Rafael Correa denounced the sentence as condemning "an innocent." 

"A trial full of so many irregularities will have to go to the international bodies, but they already have their objective: to seize the vice presidency," Correa wrote.

"The same script as with Dilma, Lula, Cristina. It's all a matter of time, and our people will react."

Glas' defense counsel, Eduardo Franco Loor, has also announced that he will appeal the six-year sentence, which he described as "iniquitous" and "barbaric," insisting that his client will not resign.

"The temporary suspension of the sentence will be requested immediately, as established by the regulations so that the vice president can recover his freedom as soon as possible," Loor said. "Of course, he will continue as vice president of the country."

The sentence was handed down by Edgar Flores Mier, who granted Attorney General Carlos Baca's requested six-year jail sentence. Baca argued that "the prosecution has presented the evidence with which it based its trial, and now it is up to the judges to establish culpability or ratify innocence."

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Glas and his uncle Ricardo Rivera were two of nine people accused of criminal conduct in connection with the sprawling Latin American corruption case. Odebrecht has admitted paying US$788 million in bribes to officials in Panama, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, Peru and the Dominican Republic.

 

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Brazil's Temer Could Lose Power as Fraud Accusations Pile Up

Temer is increasingly under pressure to resign, while court processes threaten to further jeopardize his executive power.

As multiple corruption scandals continue to swirl around Brazilian President Michel Temer and his government, the country's top electoral court has relaunched a case that could remove the president from office over alleged illegal financing in his 2014 campaign as running mate to former President Dilma Rousseff. 

RELATED: Brazil's Temer Defies Calls to Step Down over Wiretap Scandal

The court entered its second day of debates Wednesday, and analysts predicted the process could take weeks as several judges have requested more time to study the case to continue the hearings.

Just hours ahead of the scheduled start of the hearing Tuesday, Brazil's federal police sent Temer Monday an interrogation document with a list 84 questions as part of a separate investigation probing the president over accusations of corruption, organized crime and obstruction of justice.

Initially, Temer had 24 hours to respond to the questions, a deadline that ended Tuesday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. local time. 

But his lawyers requested an extension as they argued it was "absolutely impossible to demand a manifestation of the President of the Republic in the short term of 24 hours." The new deadline is set for Friday afternoon 5:00 p.m. local time.

Protesters with face masks of Brazil's politicians. Photo: Reuters

Protest against Temer in Sao Paulo. Photo: Reuters

Police patrol in front of the federal court in Brasilia. Photo: Reuters

As the election financing case moves forward and other corruption allegations continue to crash down around the president, protesters gathered outside the federal court in Brasilia to demand Temer's resignation and call for direct elections to choose the next president of Brazil.

The accusations stem from an explosive wiretap, reported May 17, in which Temer was heard appearing to give his approval to bribes to buy the silence of the jailed former president of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, the chief mastermind behind the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff last year and a powerful witness in government corruption cases.

RELATED: Protesting Austerity, Brazil's Workers to Shut Down Cities in General Strike June 30th

The conversation was recorded by Joesley Batista, chairman of JBS, the largest meatpacking company in the world, which was also involved in a large corruption scandal for bribing Brazilian politicians, as part of a bid to win a plea bargain deal with prosecutors.

The bribes were intended to keep Cunha silent about embarrassing secrets that could jeopardize the legitimacy of Temer's presidency. In the leaked wiretap, Temer is heard telling Batista about the payments: “Look, you've got to keep that up.”

The president said the recording wasn't proof of wrongdoing. He said that he didn't report the bribery references to authorities because he did not believe them. The case was delayed as authorities investigated the source of the audio.

Attorney General Rodrigo Janot has accused Temer of corruption, criminal organization and obstruction of justice as a result of the wiretap. Temer separately faces accusations of irregular campaign financing and has also been named in the central corruption investigations, known as Operation Car Wash, probing a bribery scheme in the state-run oil campany, Petrobras. 

According to  Brazilian Constitution, if Temer resigns or is dismissed, Congress must approve an indirect election to choose the person who will continue the electoral period that Rousseff began in 2015 and that ends on Jan. 1, 2019. Tuesday's electoral financing trial could unseat the president, or he could face an impeachment process over corruption accusations. Both processes would likely be lengthy. 

Brazilians have taken to the streets to demand Temer's resignation and for immediate direct elections to be held to allow Brazilian voters to elect the next president. Temer has reiterated that he will not be resigning.

According to a new poll released Monday by the country's largest labor union, known as the CUT, nine out of 10 Brazilians prefer direct general elections and 75 percent reject Temer's administration.

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Brazil Court Launches Trial that Could Boot Temer from Office over Illegal Campaign Funds

If Michel Temer is removed as president, it would mark the second transition of a government in Brazil in less than one year.

A Brazilian court kicked off a trial Tuesday over illegal election campaign financing that could unseat unelected President Michel Temer less than one year after he was installed as head of state through a parliamentary coup against his predecessor Dilma Rousseff.

RELATED: Literally Unelectable: Court Bars Temer from Running for Office

The country's top electoral court, known by its Portuguese acronym TSE, will head the case related to years-old accusations of illicit funding in Temer's campaign when he was Rousseff's running mate in her successful 2014 bid for re-election. 

Temer's right-wing PMDB party was formerly in a coalition with Rousseff's Workers' Party, also known as the PT, before a rupture last year that helped pave the way for the controversial and ill-footed impeachment process, widely condemned as a parliamentary coup. Temer, then Rousseff's vice president, became a key backer in ousting Rousseff, aligning more closely in the process with the conservative PSDB, which lost the 2014 election to Rousseff and is ironically behind the complaints filed with the TSE. 

After the TSE recognized Rousseff and Temer's win in 2014 against PSDB candidate Aecio Neves and his running mate Aloysio Nunes, who is now Temer's foreign minister, the PSDB filed complaints to reopen the legitimacy of the election victory, alleging irregularities in campaign financing linked to the corruption scheme in the state-run oil company Petrobras. 

The outcome of the trail could annul the results of the 2014 election, but justices could also rule to throw out the case since Rousseff is now longer in office. 

Both Temer and Rousseff are involved in the case and deny the allegations. Their defense teams will make their cases in the coming days.

Despite being ousted in a process her rivals painted as a bid to root out government corruption, Rousseff has not been accused of personal enrichment or financial impropriety, but rather was impeached on the basis that she cooked the books with common accounting tricks ahead of her re-election campaign.

Temer, on the other hand, is a target in Brazil's central corruption investigations known as Operation Car Wash and has already been found guilty of breaking election financing laws in a regional election court in São Paulo. As a result of the case, the sitting president has been banned for running for office for eight years — a fact that did not prevent him being installed as president as year. 

It is expected that Temer's defense will attempt to stall the trial as much as possible in attempts of postponing the conclusion until the 2018 presidential election to avoid being booted from office early. His ally Eduardo Cunha — also a member of the PMDB party and former speaker of the lower house of Congress who was the chief architect behind Rousseff's ouster — was notorious for using stall tactics when he faced suspension last year, dragging out the process for months. 

At the beginning of the trial, TSE rapporteur Judge Hernan Benjamin noted that the case has already been pending for about two and a half years and urged the court to "avoid procrastination" and "expedite" the process with this fresh trial. 

"The 2014 election will be known as the longest in Brazilian history, closing the ballot boxes and counting the votes, but the result is being discussed through the judicial process," he said, according to Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo. 

Benjamin has prepared a more than 1,000-page report on the case. Judges can request time to study the report during the proceedings, which could drag out the trial for days or even months. 

TSE Judge Gilmar Mendes said last week that it is not yet clear how long the trial will take. 

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Brazil Coup Architect Eduardo Cunha Sentenced to 15 Years for Corruption

The man who led a campaign to paint Dilma Rousseff as a corrupt politician has drowned in his own fraud scandals.

A Brazilian judge sentenced Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the lower house and mastermind behind the parliamentary coup against former President Dilma Rousseff, to 15 years in jail Thursday for corruption charges.

OPINION: Democracy Is Dead in Brazil

The sentence is the result of a criminal suit investigating Cunha for fraud related to millions of dollars in kickbacks he received for the 2011 purchase of an oil field in the West African country of Benin by the state-run oil company, Petrobras, which has been at the center of a major anti-corruption probe in the South American country known as Operation Car Wash.  

Federal Judge Sergio Moro handed down the sentence over charges of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. The former head of the lower house has been held in pre-trial detention since last October. 

"The responsibility of a federal parliamentarian is enormous, and therefore so is his guilt when he commits crimes," said Moro. "There is no bigger crime than that of trying to use one's parliamentary mandate and the sacred trust the people place in it to obtain personal gain."

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According to Moro, Cunha received US$1.5 million in bribes for the Benin oil field contract, which, according to an internal Petrobras investigation reported by local media, resulted in US$77.5 million in losses for the state-run oil company after no oil was found at the site. 

While Cunha's defense team has said that they will appeal the decision, Moro confirmed that the politician will remain behind bars while the appeals process moves forward. 

IN DEPTH: The Coup That Ousted Brazilian Democracy

Despite himself facing multi-million dollar bribery and fraud charges, Cunha was a key architect in painting the impeachment process against Dilma Rousseff as a campaign to root out government corruption.

A member of unelected President Michel Temer’s PMDB party, Cunha is accused of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion linked to raking in at least US$5 million in illicit kickbacks between 2006 and 2012 and hiding the wealth in Swiss bank accounts.

Cunha was removed from his position as speaker of the lower house last September after being suspended in May 2016 — just weeks after the lower house pushed through the impeachment bid against Rousseff — to face an impeachment process over accusations that he intimidated lawmakers and hampered investigations. The Congress voted overwhelmingly by 450 to 10 to remove the unpopular politician.

The overwhelming decision to remove Cunha also stripped him of the parliamentary immunity he long enjoyed, opening him up to the corruption charges. Authorities arrested him at his apartment in Brasilia last October over accusations he hid laundered money in secret Swiss bank account while in office.

Despite the power he has wielded over Brazilian politics, polling over the past year has repeatedly unmasked Cunha as one of the most unpopular politicians in the country, including among his own party.

Several other top Temer allies have also been targeted in the Operation Car Wash investigations that have led to the arrests of dozens of politicans and economic elites over bribery schemes and corruption linked to Petrobras.

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Brazil's Lula faces new corruption charges

Brasília (AFP) - New corruption charges linked to Brazil's massive embezzlement scheme at Petrobras oil company were filed Thursday against former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, prosecutors said.

A judge will now have to decide whether Lula, whose spokesman called the charges "invented," should face trial.

The Workers' Party founder is already set to be tried in other cases, with the mounting scandals likely to wreck the once hugely popular leftist leader's chances of a political comeback at elections in 2018.

In the latest case, federal prosecutors accused Lula of taking bribes from the construction giant Odebrecht in the forms of an apartment and land on which to build his Lula Institute think tank in Sao Paulo.

Odebrecht is the company at the heart of a massive embezzlement and bribery scheme at Petrobras, Brazil's most important state enterprise.

Dozens of politicians have been accused of taking bribes from Odebrecht and other construction companies to line their own pockets and boost party campaign funds in exchange for facilitating inflated contracts for the companies with Petrobras.

Eight others, including the former head of Odebrecht -- Marcelo Odebrecht -- are named alongside Lula in the latest complaint, in which prosecutors allege a total of 75 million reais ($22.1 million) in bribes linked to eight Petrobras contracts.

Lula "is accused of practicing the crimes of passive corruption and money laundering," the federal prosecutors' service said in a statement. His wife, Marisa Leticia Lula da Silva, is accused of money laundering.

Lula's representative Jose Chrispiniano said that corruption prosecutors investigating the Petrobras affair "have invented a new story for their obsessive quest to paint the ex-president as responsible for the embezzlement."

Lula had already been ordered to stand trial for alleged corruption and money laundering in the pay-to-play scandal. He will also stand trial for obstruction of justice.

An outsized figure of the Latin American left, Lula has said he is willing to run for office again in 2018 and polls show he would be a frontrunner, despite the increasing cloud of corruption.

However, he has lost the once heady ratings he enjoyed during his 2003-2010 presidency and is blamed on the right for the country's mounting economic woes.

His successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office earlier this year for violating budget rules and his Workers' Party was trounced in recent municipal elections.

Marcelo Odebrecht has already been convicted on earlier charges and was sentenced to 19 years in prison. However, he and nearly 80 other executives from his company are currently cooperating with prosecutors in a plea bargain to get reduced sentences.

Their testimony, alleging participation of top politicians in the bribery scheme, is expected to set off more political bombshells in Brazil. The current president, Michel Temer, is among those being named in the testimony, according to Brazilian media reports.

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