38 charged as Philippine graft scandal widens

Updated 29 November 2013

38 charged as Philippine graft scandal widens

MANILA: Philippine investigators recommended criminal charges Friday against the country’s customs chief, the first political ally of President Benigno Aquino to be implicated in a widening corruption scandal.
Bureau of Customs Commissioner Rozzano Biazon and seven fellow former members of the House of Representatives were accused of taking part in a complex scam lasting many years to syphon off 10 billion pesos ($230 million) in government funds.
The National Bureau of Investigation accused Biazon of taking 1.95 million pesos in kickbacks to allow the diversion of money from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), intended for infrastructure projects in the legislators’ congressional districts.
“The legislators (knew) fully well that their act of receiving the large amounts of cash for their private use resulted in the corresponding diminution of the funds,” the formal complaint read.
The bureau asked the justice department to file criminal charges of direct bribery, graft, and misuse of public funds against the eight former legislators and 26 other people.
Three sitting senators, five former House members, and several former government agency chiefs were among 38 people charged earlier in connection with the scam, including its alleged mastermind, businesswoman Janet Napoles.
The bureau alleged the scam played out with legislators conniving with executives of government agencies to hand over their PDAF allocations to non-government groups controlled by Napoles supposedly as payment for implementing nonexistent projects.
Biazon said Friday he was ready to answer the complaint against him.
“I had always exercised prudence and fidelity in the performance of my duty as representative... as well as in other responsibilities to the public, and pursued ‘projects and programs’ that benefited my constituents,” he said in a statement.
“But as we have seen in some instances, the processes involved have been vulnerable to abuse by certain parties.”

The scandal has shone a light on corruption within the political system centerd on so-called “pork barrel” funding, where members of parliament receive huge sums of money from the national budget to spend in their constituencies.
It has also threatened to tarnish the reputation of President Aquino, who was elected in 2010 on a pledge to fight corruption.
After his stint in the legislature, Biazon was named by Aquino, a fellow member of the Liberal Party, to the customs post in 2011, tasked with cleaning up a government agency that is held by many Filipinos as among the country’s most corrupt.


Paris bans daytime jogging as virus deaths hit new high

Updated 49 min 45 sec ago

Paris bans daytime jogging as virus deaths hit new high

  • Starting Wednesday, Paris will enforce a ban on individual outdoor sports between the hours of 10:00 am and 07:00 pm
  • Officials worry that confinement violations could further burden hospitals already overflowing with COVID-19 patients

PARIS:  Paris officials announced Tuesday that they would ban daytime jogging to keep people from bending anti-coronavirus lockdown rules, after France recorded its biggest daily jump in the death toll from the outbreak.
Under nationwide stay-at-home orders that came into force on March 17, people can leave their homes only for essential purposes, which until now included a solo walk or run within a one-kilometer (0.6-mile) radius of home.
But amid a spell of sunny spring weather, large groups of Parisians were seen running, walking and congregating over the weekend, even as police stepped up patrols and issued fines for lockdown violations.
Starting Wednesday, Paris will enforce a ban on individual outdoor sports between the hours of 10:00 am and 07:00 pm.
Officials worry that confinement violations could further burden hospitals already overflowing with COVID-19 patients, and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Monday urged municipal officials to toughen restrictions if necessary.
“Every excursion avoided aids the fight against the epidemic,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and police chief Didier Lallement said in a statement.
Also Tuesday, the Atlantic coastal resort city of Biarritz limited the period people can sit on benches or in other public areas to two minutes maximum, saying confinement meant that “dawdling is prohibited.”
Paris, Biarritz and other cities have already closed public parks and gardens as part of the nationwide lockdown that requires people to carry a document justifying any excursion from the home.
Those caught without the document risk a fine starting at €135 ($147).
In the north of France, the mayor of Marcq-en-Baroeul has made spitting in public, coughing or sneezing without covering one’s face, and throwing used masks and gloves in the street punishable by a fine of 68 euros.
The tougher rules came after Health Minister Olivier Veran announced Monday a record daily coronavirus death toll of 833 people in 24 hours.
“It is not over,” the minister said, urging people to “stay at home and continue this confinement effort.”
Like many other nations, France debated Tuesday the merits of encouraging, or compelling, people to wear face masks to prevent asymptomatic virus-carriers from passing it on to others.
Veran said Tuesday that it remained an “open question” that required further scientific investigation.
France’s Academy of Medicine, which advises the government on epidemics, has advocated mask-wearing as an aid in curbing the outbreak, but international bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO) disagree.
But Hidalgo said in a radio interview Tuesday that she would not oblige face mask use for now, though she did encourage people to cover their faces in public.
France’s finance ministry, meanwhile, said dozens of companies have produced 3.9 million fabric masks for non-medical professional use in the past week, and will produce 6.6 million more in the days to come.
The country’s Order of Pharmacists and two labor unions urged the government, meanwhile, to allow pharmacies to sell “alternative” non-medical grade masks to members of the public as an added protection.
The WHO said Monday that asking the general public to wear face masks could be justified in areas where hand-washing and physical distancing were difficult, but warned that masks alone could not stop the pandemic.