Senior Merkel ally urges action over Bulgaria’s corruption crisis – POLITICO

Bulgaria has faced daily demonstrations from protesters for almost two months | Nikolay Doychinov/AFP via Getty Images

CDU committee chair Gunther Krichbaum says developments in the country are ‘unacceptable.’

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s efforts to hang on to power amid a spiraling corruption crisis face an unexpected new challenge after a top ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday urged closer scrutiny of Sofia.

For years, Borissov has enjoyed a close alliance with Merkel, and his importance to her center-right European People’s Party grouping on the European stage has triggered numerous accusations that Brussels and Berlin turn a blind eye to the Balkan nation’s rule of law problems.

In a sign that the tide could be turning, however, Gunther Krichbaum, a senior lawmaker from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) urged the chancellor, the EPP and the European Commission to pay closer attention to Bulgaria.

The chair of the Bundestag’s European affairs committee said: “We have to talk seriously with Boyko Borissov’s government, without any ifs and buts.”

“Bulgaria is meanwhile seen as the most corrupt state in Europe. That cannot be. These things are unacceptable,” Krichbaum told POLITICO in a telephone interview. “Bulgaria’s accession to the EU has been linked to clear commitments and expectations, and the citizens of Bulgaria are now being cheated of the fruits of EU membership.”

“Bulgaria must be put on the agenda. The accusations must be substantiated” — Gunther Krichbaum, a senior lawmaker from Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party

For almost two months, Bulgaria has faced daily demonstrations from tens of thousands of protesters who claim an oligarchic mafia has taken control of the nation through its influence over the judiciary, media and state security apparatus. A major new demonstration planned this Wednesday, called “the grand national uprising,” is expected to heap further pressure on Borissov’s government.

German Christian Democrats are viewed as supportive founding fathers of Borissov’s GERB party, and Bulgarians view the German leader as the foreign politician who could most easily destroy Borissov’s political capital if she were to turn against him.

Earlier this summer, Bulgarian protesters addressed the close ties between Merkel and Borissov with a banner captioned: “Mrs Merkel! Aren’t you ashamed of that corrupt guy?”

Krichbaum said that he expected Merkel to raise the accusations by protesters in her discussions with Borissov, and added that the EPP should also become active.

“I clearly see [EPP President] Donald Tusk as having the responsibility to conduct the decisive talks [with the Bulgarian government],” he said. “In view of current developments, more needs to happen.”

Krichbaum also called on the European Commission to probe the state of rule of law in Bulgaria and launch an infringement procedure against the country should concerns persist.

“Bulgaria must be put on the agenda. The accusations must be substantiated,” Krichbaum said. “It is the European Commission’s job, as the guardian of the treaties, to take action. If the Commission sees the accusations as proven, then infringement proceedings must be initiated.”

The German Social Democratic Party (SPD), which is governing in a coalition with Merkel’s CDU, has also criticized the Bulgarian government and has expressed solidarity with protesters in Sofia.

“We should pay more attention to states such as Bulgaria during the German presidency of the Council of the EU,” said Detlef Müller, the SPD’s deputy democracy policy spokesman in the Bundestag.

“I would like to see this issue raised by the German government at meetings of EU leaders or ministers. It is important that basic European principles are respected by all member states,” he added.

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Apparent Suicide Raises Questions Over BRI Corruption

By: Toh Han Shih

There are unanswered questions over the apparent August 16 suicide of Chen Fenjian (above, left), a former top executive of two large Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) engaged in the Belt and Road Initiative, one of which, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), was recently sanctioned and accused of corruption by the US government.

One of BRI’s most active companies, CCCC is one of a long list of Chinese firms involved in China’s massive US$1 trillion-plus effort to build infrastructure across a huge swathe of the world. The BRI, planned by Chinese leader Xi Jinping as the capstone of China’s global expansion, has instead turned into what one critic called a “global trail of trouble” that has saddled country after country with massive debt and has been tarnished with accusations of corruption. In 2009, CCCC itself was debarred for six years by the World Bank for alleged fraudulent bidding on a Philippine highway project.

Chen was chairman of China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) from September 17, 2018 until his death less than two years later. He was President of CCCC from April 2014 to July 2018 and deputy chairman of the Shanghai and Hong Kong-listed company from December 2016 to July 2018. CRCC, whose revenue was RMB830.45 billion (US$121 billion) in 2019, is one of the world’s largest rail builders and has built infrastructure projects around the world including Russia and Africa. CCCC, whose revenue was RMB552.54 billion in 2019, is one of the largest port builders and dredging companies in the world

Chen fell to his death from a tall building in Beijing at the age of 58, apparently of suicide, according to Chinese media reports. Chinese police are investigating his death, reported the state-owned Global Times. CRCC, which is listed in Hong Kong and Shanghai, announced on August 18 that Chen passed away and the company’s operations are normal, but gave no further details.

CRCC’s Chinese-language website has been down for more than 10 days since Chen’s death, although its English-language website is functioning. It was only on August 29 when CRCC’s Chinese website was functional again. The CRCC website may have been down because management was deciding on the best “message” to put out, said Dane Chamorro, a Singapore-based senior partner of Control Risks, an international risk consultancy.

“The fact that the Chinese website was down so long suggests there could be an internal crisis within the company and they were stalling for time,” said a Hong Kong-based investigator who declined to be named. “It is odd that a large, listed company would have its website down so long. The website is one of the best ways for the company to provide information to the public. As a public company, shareholders want to know what is going on in the company.”

Investor confidence in CRCC was rattled after its chairman’s death, with its Hong Kong share price falling from HK$6.84 on August 17 to HK$6.15 on August 28, while its Shanghai share price declined from RMB9.27 on August 17 to RMB8.88 on August 28.

One day before Chen’s death, an investigative team of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), the Chinese government body overseeing SOEs, completed its inspection of CRCC. The timing has aroused speculation on whether Chen’s apparent suicide might be linked to corruption, but there is no evidence that he was corrupt.

However. several chairmen of Chinese state-owned companies and state-owned banks have taken their lives to evade punishment and avoid revealing information on co-conspirators to Chinese investigators. Since Xi launched his anti-corruption campaign in 2012, more than 260 senior Chinese officials and company executives have died unnaturally through means such as falling off buildings, hanging, poisoning, gunshots or drowning, according to the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily.

CCCC sanctioned

The US Commerce Department sanctioned 24 Chinese companies including CCCC and some of its subsidiaries on August 27 for helping the Chinese military build artificial islands and place military installations on these islands in the South China Sea. Under the sanctions, US companies are restricted in selling products and technology to these Chinese firms.

According to a transcript of a US State Department briefing on August 26, an unnamed senior State Department official said, “In doing this, we have various aims, including, of course, to impose costs on bad actors and to encourage all sorts of parties and institutions and governments around the world to assess risk and reconsider business deals with the sort of predatory Chinese state-own0ed enterprises that we’ve identified here, to include China Communications Construction Company and its subsidiaries that have been so central to the militarization and coercion in the South China Sea.”

“CCCC, which led on the dredging, is also one of the leading contractors used by Beijing in its global “One Belt One Road” strategy. The company and its subsidiaries have engaged in corruption, predatory financing, environmental destruction, and other abuses in countries all around the world,” the senior State Department official added.

The senior State Department official cited the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), a railway project linking the east and west coast of peninsular Malaysia where CCCC was the prime contractor. The project was initiated in 2016 while Chen was CCCC President and Najib Razak was Malaysian prime minister. The initial cost of the project at RM65.5 billion (US$15.7 billion) was several times more expensive than the market rate, which aroused much suspicion.

After Najib’s Barisan Nasional coalition lost the Malaysian election in May 2018, the ECRL project came under severe scrutiny by the new government which replaced him. In July 2018, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) raided the offices of ECRL, but to date, no corruption charges have been laid. In 2019, Mahathir Mohamad, who succeeded Najib as Malaysian Prime Minister, signed a revised deal with the Chinese parties which lowered the cost of ECRL to RM44 billion from RM65.5 billion. On July 28, the Malaysian High Court sentenced Najib to 12 years jail and fined him RM210 million on seven charges related to the multi-billion dollar international money laundering scandal involving the defunct Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

In Bangladesh, CCCC’s subsidiary, China Harbor Engineering Corp, was blacklisted by the Bangladeshi government from projects after bribing an official in that South Asian nation, the senior State Department official pointed out.

In 2011, a Bangladeshi court sentenced Arafat Rahman Koko, a son of former Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, to six years in prison for taking over US$2.66 million in bribes from China Harbor Engineering and German electronics giant Siemens. Koko was also found guilty of laundering more than US$2.66 million to Singapore.

“In most cases, it is no surprise that these contracts can involve kickbacks. The biggest weakness of the Belt and Road Initiative is not the debt, but the fact that most of these contracts are ‘no bid’ and negotiated in secret, which leads to huge potential for corruption on both sides of the deal,” Chamorro said.

Infrastructure projects are prone to the risk of corruption because of the huge amount of funds involved and projects like road and rail require the acquisition of land or right of way, which “drive corruption on a grand scale just about everywhere in the world,” Chamorro added.

The senior State Department also cited CCCC Dredging, one of CCCC’s subsidiaries which were sanctioned by the US government. In late 2015, CCCC Dredging aborted its planned US$1 billion initial public offering (IPO) on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. CCCC Dredging played a significant role in dredging the Spratly Island outposts, but the company was unwilling to disclose this on its IPO prospectus, the official added.

On August 27, CCCC issued an announcement playing down the impact of the US sanctions, saying CCCC Dredging accounted for only 6 percent of the new contract value of CCCC’s 2019 revenue.

“China’s construction activities on its own territory are entirely within its sovereignty and have nothing to do with militarization,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a press conference on August 27. “The participation of Chinese companies and individuals in domestic construction activities is legitimate, lawful and beyond reproach.”

The US action, Zhao said, “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs and violates international law and basic norms governing international relations. It is hegemonistic logic and power politics that are at play here. China is firmly opposed to this.”

CRCC and CCCC did not reply to Asia Sentinel’s questions.

Toh Han Shih is a Singaporean writer in Hong Kong.

This article is among the stories we choose to make widely available. If you wish to get the full Asia Sentinel experience and access more exclusive content, please do subscribe to us.

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Bondi, Biden and Corruption – WSJ

The second night of the Republican National Convention was a lot like the first, with uplifting messages centered around patriotism, liberty, economic revival and second chances. And then there was Pam Bondi. The former Florida Attorney General made the case that Joe Biden doesn’t deserve another political office given the way his family monetized the last one.

Ms. Bondi took on a tough job and while her message may not have warmed as many hearts as the other presentations, the issue is relevant as the former vice president…

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Jeff Horn v Tim Tszyu weigh in: Corruption scandal

THE build up to the Jeff Horn-Tim Tszyu bout has exploded with sensational allegations of possible corruption surrounding the three judges involved in Australia’s fight of the year.

The super welterweight clash in Townsville was rockes by claims one judge privately said “Tim Tszyu will win” in the lead up to the blockbuster on Wednesday night.

Another judge apparently said “Horn looks in great shape” in an explosive preamble to the mega fights.

Under the rules, judges are gagged from making any public or private comment in relation to an upcoming bout for fear it would jeopardise the sanctity of the fight.

Horn’s trainer Glenn Rushton has addressed rumours the judges breached protocols by commenting on the fight.

“What has come to light is one of the judges have a strong opinion and has told a friend Tim will win,” he said

“That concerns me. When you have three judges and one expressed his opinion Tim would win. It’s not good.”

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Icare whistleblower speaks out on culture of corruption at workers’ compensation insurance agency

A senior insider who worked at the scandal-plagued NSW insurance agency icare has broken his silence about a culture of corruption at the organisation.

Former major crimes and homicide detective Chris McCann joined icare as the head of compliance investigating fraud and corruption in 2016.

“I think it’s time to tell the truth and join the dots,” Mr McCann told a joint investigation by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC’s 7.30 program.

Icare, the $38 billion insurance agency, looks after millions of workers when they get sick or injured on the job.

Set up by the NSW government in 2015, it has lost more than $3 billion, despite cutting benefits to thousands of injured workers.

McCann decided to speak out to let people know that the seeds for the current disaster were set back in 2016.

Bad practices, conflicts of interest

Contracts worth millions of dollars were awarded by icare where there were conflicts of interest which were not disclosed.(ABC News)

Mr McCann was the whistleblower who first discovered what was happening at icare.

Instead of being listened to, he was undermined, blocked and bullied.

He kept diary notes and paperwork that he showed to the joint investigation, detailing his specific concerns and the senior executives that he told.

It also details the removal of crucial information from a report he had put together for the board audit and risk committee.

“The habit to keep diaries was formed when I first became a detective,” he said.

“I would always note the time, date, when I had conversations with people.

“And so each time I would raise my concerns with whomever it was, I would record the fact I had raised my concern and also recorded their response.”

His diaries, spanning 2016 to 2018, include “procurement practices not being followed. Awarding friends and ex-colleagues contracts, not declaring conflicts of interest, approving invoices without substantiation … millions of dollars of contracts being awarded to people with close relationships internally and not declaring their conflicts of interest”.

McCann said his attempts to call wrongdoing to account were blocked.

‘So many cover-ups’

In late 2017, Mr McCann confronted an executive who had failed to declare a trip to Dallas, Texas, funded by RSA Archer, after icare had bought some of its software.

Mr McCann sent emails to the executive asking him to lodge a gifts and benefits declaration, which he finally did weeks after taking the trip, but it was not reported in icare’s annual report.

“There were so many cover-ups,” he said.

Mr McCann told the joint investigation that if the company had followed his compliance and governance framework and internal policies, and management had taken his concerns about misconduct seriously, icare would have avoided its current mess.

In the past few weeks, a joint media investigation with The Herald, The Age and ABC has exposed solvency issues with icare, including a $4 billion taxpayer bailout of the Treasury Managed Fund this year, the underpayment of $80 million to 52,000 injured workers and contracts being awarded without a tender.

John Nagle, CEO icare, the organisation which runs NSW workers comp.
John Nagle stood down as chief executive of icare after the board deemed he had been ‘deficient’ in disclosure.(Sydney Morning Herald: Jessica Hromas  )

The scandal has claimed the scalp of icare chief executive John Nagle after it emerged he had been sanctioned by the board for “deficient” disclosure of a contract awarded to his wife without a tender and had taken a trip to Las Vegas funded by a vendor without declaring it.

Threatening emails

Chris McCann in a large empty warehouse wearing dark rimmed glasses, blue checked jacket and blue and white checked shirt
After raising concerns, Chris McCann was subject to abusive emails.(ABC News: Jerry Rickard)

On a personal level, Mr McCann said his poor treatment escalated into a homophobic attack shortly after he was diagnosed with a serious illness that he reported to some people in head office.

He was sent a series of emails at work from a fake email address and a package including rubber gloves.

“icare does not want gay … in the workplace. You should get out,” one email said.

“Do not touch our cups, plates or cutlery. Your type are disgusting.”

A later email said: “Eating in our kitchen again, didn’t you get the last message? Don’t you understand you are not wanted.”

Around the same time, he started being excluded from crucial work meetings that made it difficult to do his job.

In December 2017, he was told by a colleague that his job had been advertised.

When he queried it, he was told the ad had been accidentally placed.

“To learn your role has been advertised and other people in the organisation knew about it before I did, it’s crushing,” he said.

At times Mr McCann said he even contemplated suicide.

Icare refused to comment on the treatment of Mr McCann.

In a statement, it said it investigated matters he raised with the assistance of independent third parties.

“Matters that were referred to ICAC did not lead to further investigation,” the statement said.

“Given the confidential and sensitive nature of the relevant matters, icare is unable to comment on the specifics of each investigation.”

In February 2018, the mental stress took its toll and he quit.

He signed a gag order and booked himself into hospital where he was diagnosed with severe depression and PTSD.

“When I left in 2018, I thought that would be the end of it,” he said.

“Nothing would come out about icare; that the story would never come out.

“This, I hope, is going to get the truth out about how this business is run and that will somehow help me move on with part of my life — if I can.”

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Lebanon Govt resigns over blast, corruption outrage

Lebanon’s prime minister has announced his government’s resignation, saying a huge explosion that devastated the capital and stirred public outrage was the result of endemic corruption.

The August 4 detonation at a port warehouse of more than 2000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate killed at least 163 people, injured more than 6000 and destroyed swathes of the Mediterranean capital, compounding months of political and economic meltdown.

In a televised address, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Monday he backed calls by ordinary Lebanese for those responsible for “this crime” to be put on trial.

Diab made the announcement after a meeting of his cabinet, formed in January with the backing of the powerful Iranian-backed Hezbollah group and its allies.

Many ministers were said earlier to want to resign, according to ministerial and political sources.

Diab said on Saturday he would request early parliamentary elections.

Demonstrations broke out again in central Beirut, with some protesters hurling rocks at security forces guarding an entrance leading to the parliament building, who responded with tear gas.

For many ordinary Lebanese, the explosion was the last straw in a protracted crisis over the collapse of the economy, corruption, waste and dysfunctional governance.

They have taken to the streets demanding root-and-branch change.

The information and environment ministers quit on Sunday as well as several MPs and the justice minister followed them out the door on Monday.

Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, a key negotiator with the IMF over a rescue plan to help Lebanon exit a financial crisis, was set to resign, a source close to him said.

Lebanon’s president had previously said explosive material was stored unsafely for years at the port.

He later said the investigation would consider whether the cause was external interference as well as negligence or an accident.

The Lebanese army said on Monday another five bodies were pulled from the rubble, raising the death toll to 163. Search and rescue operations continued.

The cabinet decided to refer the investigation of the blast to the judicial council, the highest legal authority whose rulings cannot be appealed, a ministerial source and state news agency NNA said.

Anti-government protests in the past two days have been the biggest since October, when angry demonstrations spread over an economic crisis rooted in pervasive graft, mismanagement and high-level unaccountability.

An international donor conference on Sunday raised pledges worth nearly 253 million euros ($A416 million) for immediate humanitarian relief but foreign countries are demanding transparency over how the aid is used.


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Beirut blast survivors yell “revolution” over devastation, city corruption

French President Emmanuel Macron has promised angry crowds in Lebanon’s shattered capital that aid to rebuild the city would not go to “corrupt hands” and urged the political authorities to carry out reforms.

Macron travelled straight to Beirut after the biggest blast in its history tore through the city, killing at least 145 people, injuring 5,000, leaving many more thousands homeless and a swathe of the capital in tatters.

After visiting the port at the epicentre of the blast, Macron was greeted by crowds shouting chants against the political establishment and endemic corruption.

“I guarantee you, this aid will not go to corrupt hands,” said Macron, who was wearing a black tie in mourning.

He promised to send more medical and other aid to Lebanon, while those around him chanted “Revolution” and “The people want the fall of the regime.”

“I will talk to all political forces to ask them for a new pact. I am here today to propose a new political pact to them,” he said, shaking hands on roads strewn with rubble and flanked by shops with windows blown out.

Residents, shop owners and volunteers have led clean-up efforts in the popular street of cafes and restaurants, where the blast ripped out balconies and smashed store facades.

Macron was applauded by the crowds in the neighbourhood, in a mainly Christian part of the capital, with chants of “Vive la France! Help us! You are our only hope!”.

Some also chanted against President Michel Aoun, who is a Maronite Christian under Lebanon’s political arrangement of dividing powerful positions between sects.

Macron then headed to the Baabda presidential palace, where he was due to hold talks with Aoun, Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who is a Sunni Muslim, and Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament who is a Shi’ite.

France has long sought to support its former colony and has sent emergency aid since the blast. But it has joined other Western nations in pressing for reforms to root out corruption, cut spiralling budget spending and reduce a mountain of debt.

Shortly after landing in Beirut, Macron said France’s solidarity with the Lebanese people was unconditional, but said he wanted to deliver some “home truths” to political figures.

“Beyond the blast, we know the crisis here is serious, it involves the historic responsibility of leaders in place,” Macron told reporters after being met at the airport by Aoun.

“If reforms are not carried out, Lebanon will continue to sink,” he said, citing reforms to the energy sector, as Lebanon suffers acute power shortages, and public tenders, as well as measures to fight corruption.

Officials blamed the blast on a huge stockpile of a highly explosive material stored for years in unsafe conditions at Beirut port. The government ordered some port workers arrested.

Many Lebanese, who have lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in a financial crisis, say the blast was symptomatic of neglect and corruption in the political system.

How the blast chemicals arrived in Beirut

The chemicals that went up in the blast arrived in the Lebanese capital seven years ago on a leaky Russian-leased cargo ship that, according to its captain, should never have stopped there.

Boris Prokoshev, 70, was captain of the Rhosus in 2013 when he says the owner told him to make an unscheduled stop in Lebanon to pick up extra cargo.

Prokoshev said the ship was carrying 2,750 tonnes of a highly combustible chemical from Georgia to Mozambique when the order came to divert to Beirut on its way through the Mediterranean.

The captain, speaking from his home in the Russian town of Sochi, told Reuters the crew were asked to load some heavy road equipment and take it to Jordan’s Port of Aqaba before resuming their journey onto Africa, where the ammonium nitrate was to be delivered to an explosives manufacturer.

But the ship was never to leave Beirut, having tried and failed to safely load the additional cargo before becoming embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute over port fees.

Lawyers acting for some creditors accused the ship’s owner of abandoning the vessel and succeeded in having it arrested. Months later, for safety reasons, the ammonium nitrate was unloaded and put in a dock warehouse.

The ship might have succeeded in leaving Beirut, had it managed to load the additional cargo.

The crew had stacked the equipment, including excavators and road-rollers, on top of the doors to the cargo hold which held the ammonium nitrate below, according to the ship’s Ukrainian boatswain, Boris Musinchak. But the hold doors buckled.

“The ship was old and the cover of the hold bent,” Musinchak said by ‘phone. “We decided not to take risks.”

The captain and three crew spent 11 months on the ship while the legal dispute dragged on, without wages and with only limited supplies of food. Once they left, the ammonium nitrate was unloaded.

Prokoshev identified the ship’s owner as Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin.

Cypriot police questioned Grechushkin at his home in Cyprus on Thursday, a security source said. A Cyprus police spokesman said an individual, whom he did not name, had been questioned at the request of Interpol Beirut in relation to the cargo.

Lebanon’s cabinet has placed all Beirut port officials who have overseen storage and security since 2014 under house arrest.

The head of Beirut port and the head of customs said that several letters were sent to the judiciary asking for the material be removed, but no action was taken.

According to Prokoshev, the ship had been leaking but was seaworthy when it sailed into Beirut in September 2013. However, he said Lebanese authorities paid little attention to the ammonium nitrate, which had been stacked in the hull in large sacks.

“I feel sorry for the people (killed or injured in the blast). But local authorities, the Lebanese, should be punished. They did not care about the cargo at all,” he said.

The abandoned Rhosus sank where she was moored in Beirut harbour, according to a May, 2018 email from a lawyer to Prokoshev, which said it had gone down “recently”.

-with AAP

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SA corruption watchdog to investigate accommodation allowance for country MPs

South Australia’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC) Bruce Lander has confirmed he will examine 10 years of allowances paid to country MPs, amid an investigation.

The $234 Country Members Accommodation Allowance is only payable to regional MPs, whose homes are more than 75-kilometres from Adelaide, for when they are required to spend a night in the city on official business.

Both houses of Parliament released 10 years’ worth of allowance records on Tuesday, prompting five Liberal MPs to amend dates they had claimed it, and three of those MPs to repay a total of more than $70,000.

Documents relating to the claims remained secret until they were released earlier this week after an ABC investigation into the eligibility of some MPs.

The State Government has also promised greater scrutiny of the allowance scheme.

MPs to repay more than $70,000

Mr Lander’s statement comes amid a deepening expenses scandal sparked by the release of a decade’s worth of expense records.

Transport Minister Stephan Knoll, Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone and backbencher Fraser Ellis, have collectively agreed to repay more than $70,000.

Mr Ellis will repay the biggest portion — $42,130.

Barossa-based Mr Knoll, who will repay more than $29,000, has often stayed with his parents in Adelaide while claiming the allowance.

SA Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone and Infrastructure Minister Stephan Knoll.(ABC News)

On Wednesday, refused to say what expenses he faced while staying with them, but repeatedly said “I do incur expenses”.

It has also been revealed ministers Knoll and Whetstone billed taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars for regional, interstate and overseas travel on the same days they incorrectly claimed the allowance.

Premier Steven Marshall has said the payments were claimed in error and denied there had been any deliberate wrongdoing.

But Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas called on the Premier to “finally show leadership and sack his ministers”.

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Trump Move To Free Ally Stone Is ‘Historic Corruption’: Republican Senator

Donald Trump’s commutation of the prison sentence of longtime ally Roger Stone was a case of “unprecedented, historic corruption,” Senator Mitt Romney tweeted Saturday, making his a rare Republican voice raised in criticism of the president.

Stone, who is 67, had been set on Tuesday to begin serving a 40-month prison term after his conviction on seven felony charges originally brought by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.

The charges include tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to help him win the 2016 election.

Romney, who infuriated Trump when he became the only Republican to vote to convict the president in his impeachment trial, pulled no punches on Saturday.

“Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president,” he tweeted.

His blunt criticism set him apart from most Republicans, who have remained largely mute on the matter, but it aligned him with the unanimous condemnation coming from the president’s Democratic critics, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, seen on July 9, 2020, has denounced President Donald Trump’s commutation of the jail sentence of close ally Roger Stone as ‘staggering corruption’

“President Trump’s decision to commute the sentence of top campaign advisor Roger Stone, who could directly implicate him in criminal misconduct, is an act of staggering corruption,” she tweeted early Saturday.

Pelosi called for legislation “to ensure that no president can pardon or commute the sentence of an individual who is engaged in a cover-up campaign to shield that president from criminal prosecution.”

Romney, the Republican nominee for president in 2012, has been shunned by some in the party since his vote on impeachment. The president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr, called for him to be “expelled” from the party.

The flamboyant Stone, a longtime political activist and consultant — he even sports a tattoo of President Richard Nixon, for whom he once worked — is easily recognized by his trademark dark glasses and bowler hat. He and Trump were introduced in the 1980s and were said to have hit it off immediately.

Anti-Trump protesters held up signs as the motorcade carrying President Donald Trump took him to the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia on July 11, 2020

Anti-Trump protesters held up signs as the motorcade carrying President Donald Trump took him to the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia on July 11, 2020
 AFP / Alex Edelman

Trump’s action late Friday instantly brought new accusations that the president has intervened freely in the US justice system to help friends and allies like Stone, and to punish critics and perceived enemies.

In a highly unusual move in May, the US Justice Department moved to dismiss its own case against Michael Flynn, a former national security advisor to Trump, though he had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. A federal judge has demanded a further judicial review of the matter.

Stone was the first person directly involved in Trump’s campaign to receive clemency.

Indictment papers said that a top Trump campaign official had dispatched Stone to get information from the WikiLeaks organization regarding thousands of emails hacked from Democratic accounts — a leak that fueled Republican attacks on Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The Mueller report stated that “the President’s conduct could also be viewed as reflecting his awareness that Stone could provide evidence that would run counter to the President’s denials and would link the President to Stone’s efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks.

Trump has denied any knowledge of any such outreach to WikiLeaks.

On Friday, the White House defended the commutation order benefiting Stone in language reminiscent of Trump’s frequent tweets, saying “overzealous prosecutors” had pursued Stone based on charges stemming from the “Russia hoax” and political “witch hunts.”

The statement did not claim that Stone was innocent of the charges facing him but said he should have a proper chance to clear his name.

But leading Democrats said the commutation was a perversion of the American legal system.

Representative Adam Schiff, the Democrat who led the impeachment drive against Trump, put it bluntly: “With Trump there are now two systems of justice in America: One for Trump’s criminal friends and one for everyone else.”

The Washington Post editorial board, meanwhile, denounced the move in searing terms, calling it “one of the most nauseating instances of corrupt government favoritism the United States has ever seen.”

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South Australian magistrate Bob Harrap resigns following corruption charges

South Australian magistrate Bob Harrap has resigned from his position less than two weeks after being arrested and charged with corruption offences.

Magistrate Harrap was charged in late June, following an investigation conducted by the state’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC).

Anti-corruption commissioner Bruce Lander said Magistrate Harrap had been charged with two counts of deception and one count of conspiracy to commit abuse of public office.

He was also charged with conspiracy to attempt to “obstruct or pervert the course of justice or due administration of the law”.

A South Australian police prosecutor and a criminal lawyer have been charged with corruption offences alongside Magistrate Harrap.

In a short statement on Wednesday evening, South Australia’s Chief Magistrate, Mary-Louise Hribal, said Magistrate Harrap had tendered his resignation as a magistrate in South Australia.

Resignation follows first court appearance

The resignation came two days after his first court appearance over the charges.

Magistrate Harrap and lawyer Catherine Moyse — principal solicitor at CJM Legal — appeared in the Adelaide Magistrates Court on Monday, charged with perverting the course of justice.

Bob Harrap was arrested amid an investigation by the state’s anti-corruption watchdog.(ABC News)

Police prosecutor Abigail “Abi” Foulkes and another woman — whose identity has been suppressed — did not appear in court.

In June, Mr Lander said it was alleged that, on two occasions, Magistrate Harrap “misrepresented who was driving his government-issued vehicle at the time it was observed committing traffic offences”.

“It will also be separately alleged that … Magistrate Harrap conspired with another person to pervert the cause of justice and conspired to abuse his public office in relation to a matter that was to be heard by him and was heard by him,” the statement said.

The offences are alleged to have occurred in May this year.

In a statement released late on Monday, Mr Lander confirmed all four co-accused were charged as a result of the same investigation.

However, he clarified that the charges related to different matters.

Catherine Jayne Moyse walks outside a courthouse next to a man
Catherine Jayne Moyse (centre) is one of three co-accused along with Magistrate Bob Harrap.(ABC News: Meagan Dillon)

“Senior Sergeant Abigail Foulkes and another person whose identity has been suppressed have each been charged with one count of deception,” Mr Lander said.

“A third person, Catherine Moyse who is a legal practitioner, has been jointly charged with Magistrate Harrap in a separate and unrelated matter.”

Mr Lander said Ms Moyse had been charged with “one count of conspiracy to commit the offence of abuse of public office and one count of conspiracy to attempt to obstruct or pervert the course of justice”.

All four co-accused will be back before the court later this month.

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