- Candian PM Justin Trudeau has been accused of pressuring his justi minister to settle a corruption scandal involving the large Canadian corporation SNC-Lavalin.
- SNC has been accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to the Lybian government, including to the regime of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
- Two ministers and one of Trudeau’s top political advisors have resigned amid the allegations, which Trudeau has denied.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has become entangled in a corruption scandal that alleges his office attempted to settle a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin, a multinational engineering and construction firm based in Canada.
The criminal case against SNC claims the company paid millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Lybia in order to secure lucrative contracts, including millions in bribes paid to the regime of Lybian dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
SNC is a large company. While it is based in Quebec, it boasts more than 50,000 employees worldwide and $10.1 billion in revenue in 2018.
However, SNC is not new to corruption allegations. The company has been accused of corrupt practices for years in multiple countries, including in Bangladesh, India, Mexico, and it’s home country of Canada.
Just last month, a former SNC CEO Pierre Duhaime pleaded guilty to 15 charges including fraud, conspiracy, and forgery in a Montreal court. The charges against Duhaime came only six years after he was first arrested and accused of bribing public officials.
Nine people were charged in the case involving Duhaime, and one Quebec police investigator called it “The biggest case of corruption fraud in Canadian history.”
Then, in Feb. 2015, Canadian authorities charged SNC with paying 47.7 million Canadian dollars in bribes to officials in Libya, as well as defrauding the Libyan government of 129.8 million Canadian dollars.
If SNC is convicted, it could be banned from federal government contracts for a decade. A move that could seriously hurt its business and eliminate numerous Canadian jobs.
Trudeau’s involvement in the SNC Lybia case started when he took office 2015. Following his inauguration, his justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, was given oversight of the case regarding Lybia.
Wilson-Raybould identifies as Indigenous, and her appointment was applauded by many in Canada, who took it as a sign of Trudeau’s commitment to Indigenous people and women.
Then, in Jan. 2019, Trudeau reassigned Wilson-Raybould from to the Veterans Affairs Department– a major demotion.
On Feb. 7, The Globe and Mail published an investigative report that claimed Trudeau and his aides had attempted to direct Wilson-Raybould’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case.
Wilson-Raybould resigned from her post on Feb. 12, less than a week after the Globe and Mail story was published.
Then, last month, she gave testimony to a parliamentary committee. In that testimony, she claimed that Trudeau and his aides had pressured her to settle the case against SNC by using “political interference” and “veiled threats.”
Wilson-Raybould said that she had 10 meetings, 10 phone calls, and a series of emails regarding the case with 11 government officials.
She also specified that the conversations were “inappropriate” but not illegal. Stating that despite the pressure, no one ever directly told her to order prosecutors to reach a settlement with SNC.
Wilson-Raybould did say she felt that Trudeau and his aides had crossed informal lines that are supposed to keep politics and prosecutions separate, claiming that they did this by repeatedly raising concerns about the possibility of job losses and potential political ramifications of a trial.
She asserted Trudeau specifically said, “There would be many jobs lost and that SNC will move from Montreal,” and asked her to “f
Wilson-Raybould alleges she resisted that pressure and believes she was removed from the position as a consequence.
Trudeau, for his part, has denied putting pressure on her. In a press conference after her testimony, he stated: “I and my staff always acted appropriately and professionally, therefore I completely disagree with the characterization of the former attorney general of these events.”
Trudeau’s problems do not just stop with Wilson-Raybould.
On Monday, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott resigned from her post, writing in her resignation letter: “I have been considering the events that have shaken the government in recent weeks and after serious reflection, I have concluded that I must resign as a member of cabinet.”
She then goes on to cite a provision in Canada’s constitution that requires ministers to defend all of the cabinet’s decisions.
“Given this convention and the current circumstances, it is untenable for me to continue to serve as a Cabinet member,” she wrote.
Philpott added that she has, “ lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised,”
“There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them,” she continued.
Philpott now marks the second resignation of a minister, and it also comes just weeks after Trudeau’s top political advisor, Gerald Butts, quit in late February.
Although Butts denied the allegations which he has also been implicated in, he still cited them as a reason for his resignation.
The unresolved nature of this case has left many wondering what will happen next.
The leader of Canada’s Conservative opposition, Andrew Scheer, called for Trudeau to resign, stating, “Justin Trudeau simply cannot continue to govern this country now that Canadians know what he has done.”
Sheer has also called for the police to launch a criminal probe of Trudeau’s actions. A request which has been joined both other members of opposition parties, some of whom have also called for an independent inquiry.
The ethics commissioner of Canada’s Parliament has started an investigation into the matter. However, by law, the commissioner can look only for conflicts of interest.
Meanwhile, there are still more hearings to come, including testimony from Gerald Butts, who is scheduled to testify about his role in the Lavalin matter before a parliament committee on Wednesday.
Trudeau for his part has continually denied the allegations. Following Philpotts resignation on Monday, Trudeau said he is taking the concerns seriously
Trudeau notably faces a federal election in October, which is just seven months away.
Even if nothing comes of the allegations against him, his opponents have already used this incident to portray him as a leader who directed aides to bully an Indigenous woman to protect a corporation from a criminal conviction in a corruption case.
A move that does not look good for someone who promised government transparency, and is a self-described feminist and supporter of Indigenous rights.
What happens next depends on if Trudeau can save his reputation, as well as what happens with the SNC case.
Many people believe that major job losses at the SNC headquarters in Quebec would hurt Trudeau in a province where votes will be crucial for him.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CBC) (NPR)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)
Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished
The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.
Settlers Get Ready to Move in
On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.
“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.
The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.
The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.
In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.
Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land
On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.
Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s
“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”