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Around The World Rome Ex-mayor in Mafia probe

Rome
Ex-mayor in Mafia probe: Gianni Alemanno, the former mayor of Rome, was placed under formal investigation this week for corruption and alleged ties to the Mafia. His house was searched, and some of his associates were among dozens of people arrested in a big anti-corruption sweep. Alemanno, who was mayor from 2008 until 2013 and is an ally of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s, said he was “completely unconnected with any wrongdoing.” Authorities said they had uncovered a citywide network of corruption that linked Mafia members, politicians, managers of public companies, and even neo-fascist groups. Rome’s criminal underworld operates separately from traditional southern Italian Mafias such as the Cosa Nostra, and it has been connected with far-right groups since the 1970s.

Ottawa
Give us your rich, your educated: Canada has changed its immigration policy to give wealthier and higher-skilled immigrants priority in winning permanent residency. Canada traditionally processed applications on a first-come, first-served basis, but the new policy will push educated workers with job offers to the front of the line. The government is also reviving a program, used almost entirely by Chinese millionaires, whereby those who invest around a million dollars in Canada can gain residency. That program was discontinued in February but will now be restarted with a higher investment stake, probably around $1.5 million.


Mexico City
Police purge: Mexico is overhauling police forces across the country in an attempt to wrest local cops away from the influence of drug cartels. Police in the most corrupt cities will be replaced by state police under President Enrique Peña Nieto’s new plan. If the rest of the city’s government also appearsirretrievably compromised, it can be dissolved and placed under state control. The reform comes in the wake of the scandal in the southern city of Iguala, where the mayor and police chief allegedly conspired with a cartel to murder 43 student teachers. Around 60 percent of Mexicans say they have no confidence in their local police.

Caracas, Venezuela
Dissident accused of plot: Venezuelan opposition leader María Corina Machado was summoned to court this week to answer charges of attempting to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro. Opposition groups said the charges were trumped up, and even the Catholic Church has spoken out against the government. Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino said the accusation was “based on very weak evidence” of emails that independent cybersecurity experts say appeared to have been forged. In 2005, Machado was charged with treason for accepting funding from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy for her civil society group. Earlier this year, she was removed from her post as deputy in the National Assembly.

St. Petersburg, Russia
World Cup costs one Picasso: The scandal over Russia’s alleged bribery of world soccer officials deepened this week with allegations that Russian authorities took paintings out of the Hermitage museum and gave them to FIFA officials. Britain’s Sunday Times reported that it has evidence on one case in particular, that of the Russians’ giving French soccer official Michel Platini a painting by Picasso—potentially worth tens of millions of dollars—in exchange for his support for Russia’s successful bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Platini said the story was “completely fictitious” and threatened to sue for libel. The Times said its story was based on information gathered by former British intelligence officers.

Tambopata, Peru
Rain-forest wasteland: Illegal gold mining in the Peruvian rain forest has poisoned the land and the indigenous people who live there with toxic mercury. Peru sent troops into the jungle in recent weeks to destroy illegal mining equipment and break up camps. They found some 230 square miles of deforested, contaminated land. Two years ago, the government launched an intensive program to legalize and regulate the so-called informal miners, but only 231 of an estimated 300,000 unlicensed miners have registered so far. Meanwhile, a health study showed that up to 80 percent of the region’s residents had unsafe levels of mercury in their blood from eating tainted fish. Gold has been called the “new cocaine” for the region’s crime gangs, because it is more profitable than drugs.

Arsal, Lebanon
Questions over caliph’s ‘wife’: Lebanese authorities say they have arrested a wife and a daughter of the self-declared caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Drawing on information from Iraqi and Syrian intelligence, Lebanese troops captured Saja al-Dulaimi and her child as they crossed from Syria into Lebanon late last month. Baghdadi is believed to have three wives—two Iraqis and one Syrian—and it’s unclear whether al-Dulaimi is a current or an ex-wife. If confirmed, the arrest could help Beirut in its attempts to secure the return of 26 Lebanese soldiers being held by ISIS. But a spokesman for Iraq’s Interior Ministry insisted that al-Dulaimi was not one of al- Baghdadi’s spouses. He identified the arrested woman as the sister of another militant, Omar Abdul Hamid al-Dulaimi, who is facing the death penalty in Iraq for a series of bombings.

Baghdad
‘Ghost’ soldiers: Iraqi authorities have discovered a massive fraud of 50,000 soldiers who were being paid but didn’t actually exist. A spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the investigation found that officers, who are allowed five guards each, frequently dismiss three of them but keep them on the payroll, pocketing their salaries. Commanders, meanwhile, often pad their brigades with dozens of nonexistent soldiers and collect their salaries. Officers need the extra money to bribe their superiors to keep their positions. The unmasking of the fraud this week was a sign that al-Abadi is trying to stamp out the unfettered corruption that characterized the administration of his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.

Kabul
Taliban attacks: As the U.S. prepares to withdraw most of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, the Taliban has launched a wave of deadly attacks on Westerners in Kabul. A U.S. aid company was targeted in one attack and a British Embassy car in another, while a South African aid worker and his two teenage children were murdered in their Kabul home. International charities advised their foreign workers to leave Afghanistan early for the holidays, but the Pentagon said it did not believe the attacks signify a resurgence of the Taliban. “Those attacks have had no strategic effect,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby.

Tehran
Bombing ISIS? Iran denied Pentagon reports this week that it has carried out airstrikes against ISIS in Iraqi territory. U.S. defense officials said Iran’s air force had struck militant targets in Iraq’s Diyala province, and the leading security journal Jane’s Defence Weekly agreed, adding that some bombing runs were carried out by U.S.-made F-4 Phantom jets, sold to Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran has been supporting the Iraqi Shiite militias that are fighting ISIS and has sent military advisers to the Iraqi army. But an unnamed Iranian official said Iran “has never been involved in airstrikes” and ruled out cooperating with the U.S. against ISIS.


Hong Kong
The end of Occupy: After violent clashes between protesting students and riot police sent 40 people to the hospital this week, three top leaders of the Occupy Central protest movement surrendered to police and called on followers to disband their encampment in downtown Hong Kong. “The basic responsibility of civil disobedience is to surrender,” said one of the leaders, Benny Tai. The three were let go, but it’s expected that they will eventually be arrested and prosecuted for disturbing public order. At its height in October, the Occupy movement drew tens of thousands of Hong Kongers calling for fully democratic elections, but in recent weeks, it has been reduced to a hard core of just a few hundred activists.

Doha, Qatar
U.S. couple released: An American couple detained in Qatar for nearly two years on suspicion of starving their adopted daughter to death have been cleared and allowed to leave the country. Matthew and Grace Huang had adopted Gloria, 8, from Ghana, where she had been malnourished and traumatized, and she never recovered from her health problems and eating disorder. The Huangs were living in Qatar for Matthew’s engineering job in early 2013, when Gloria died suddenly, and Qatari authorities arrested them on suspicion of murder and human trafficking. Foreign adoptions are virtually unknown in Qatar, and authorities had suspected the Huangs of adopting African children for nefarious purposes.

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