RCMP civilian advisory board to tackle bullying, harassment — is that enough?

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced Wednesday that a civilian advisory board will be created to help the RCMP deal with its issue of internal bullying and harassment.

At a press conference, Goodale claimed the new management advisory board will help modernize the way the RCMP functions.

But is it enough of a solution for the RCMP, which has faced years of criticism, complaints and lawsuits over the treatments of officers?

Jane O’Reilly, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in sexual behaviour within organizations, said the new advisory board is “a good first step.”

“Problems that the RCMP are facing are so systematic that it can be really helpful to have an outside or neutral perspective looking into what’s happening and giving advice,” she said.

But O’Reilly noted that there are certain factors that will determine whether the board is truly effective. One of the factors is who ends up on the board.

Here’s how the advisory board will work

Members of an interim board will be in place by April 1. Legislative changes this spring will make the board permanent.

The board will include up to 13 part-time appointees, including a chair and vice-chair.

“Ideally, they’ll have some people on board who have been involved in a similar situation that required an intense culture change,” O’Reilly said. “Other people who have helped create more inclusive environments more generally would be helpful as well.”

Over time, the board will expand its reach into other areas of management: effective use of RCMP resources, corporate risk and responses to address them, policies and management controls that support operations, human resources and labour relations, corporate and strategic direction, and performance measurement and departmental results.

Goodale will be able to direct the RCMP commissioner to seek the board’s advice and require that the commissioner report back, including on actions taken based on that advice.

The board will not be involved in matters relating to active law enforcement investigations in keeping with the principle of police independence.

Ultimately, O’Reilly explained the success of the board really depends “how much clout” the board has within the RCMP.

“It can’t just be something that just looks good for the RCMP. They have to respect the board, to listen to their opinions, and incorporate their suggestions in a sincere way.”

Linda Duxbury, a management professor at Carleton University who has studied police culture, was more doubtful that a fully civilian advisory board would be effective.

“I’m worried that a completely civilian oversight board is not going to completely understand the culture of policing and really understand the barriers to change,” she said.

Duxbury noted that could lead to resentment and resistance within the RCMP.

“I’m not saying no civilian members, I’m simply saying that it should have an equal representation of people who have worked with the police and/or the military,” she said.

Advisory board based on recommendations

Wednesday’s announcement represents the Liberal government’s response to two critical 2017 reports.

The first was the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, which said the RCMP lacked both the will and the capacity to address the challenges that afflict its workplaces.

The second was a review by former auditor general Sheila Fraser of four harassment lawsuits from female members, which also called for substantial reforms.

The reports together made 13 recommendations, which Goodale said were all accepted by the government.

O’Reilly explained she understands where criticism that the government is not acting fast enough on those recommendations may be coming from, but that it’s important to note there are no quick solutions.

“I think they have such a big problem, there isn’t a lot of short-term solutions. It really is something that has to come from the top down,” she said.

She noted that all aspects of the RCMP need to be considered, from human resources to local cultures across the country.

RCMP’s history of bullying

In 2016, former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson delivered an apology to hundreds of current and former female officers and employees who were subjected to discrimination and harassment dating back as far as four decades.

The apology came as the Mounties settled class-action lawsuits stemming from allegations that cast a dark pall over the force.

The RCMP has received thousands of complaints from members since then and has struggled to keep up with reviewing them.

Modernization efforts

After Paulson’s departure, Brenda Lucki became the RCMP’s first permanent female commissioner.

The Trudeau government directed Lucki to modernize and reform the RCMP’s culture, protect employees from harassment and workplace violence, and foster reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Lucki was also asked by Goodale to make the force representative of Canada’s diverse population, aiming for gender parity, and to have Indigenous members and minority groups better reflected in leadership.

Another priority is implementing measures to improve health and wellness after an auditor’s report found the force was failing to meet the mental health needs of its members due to a lack of resources, poor monitoring and meagre support from supervisors.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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A $100 Million Bribe to the President? Mexicans Shrug

MEXICO CITY — The allegation landed like a bombshell in the United States: One of the world’s biggest drug kingpins had paid a $100 million bribe to the former president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto.

Yet in Mexico, the claim — made on Tuesday in a Brooklyn courtroom by a former ally of the drug lord, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo — was met with barely a shrug.

The news did not lead any of Mexico’s major daily newspapers on Wednesday. Nobody raised the issue at the morning news conference of the current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, usually a daily billboard of the nation’s most pressing political issues.

Mexicans were far more concerned with quotidian matters, such as whether they would be able to refuel their cars — a gas crisis has crippled supplies around the country — and whether the new government would get the votes it needs to create a new national security apparatus, part of its plan to curb violence.

Ensuring justice is done “is not in our hands,” said Dolores Haro, 59, who was eating lunch at a taco counter in Mexico City on Wednesday. She said most people she knew had more pressing worries, like the gas shortage.

And allegations of corruption — even on such a monumental scale — are not that surprising, added Pedro Rodríguez, 28, a marketing executive eating at the same counter.

“We Mexicans are no longer shocked,” he said. “We know that there won’t be a response.”

The muted reaction reflected, in part, hardened skepticism about the honesty of the nation’s political class and the strength of its government institutions in a culture of rampant corruption and impunity, analysts said. Many Mexicans doubt that a charge of public corruption, even one of this magnitude, would get traction in the Mexican justice system, especially in cases that probe the opaque intersection of organized crime and government.

“We understand that there is weak rule of law, the lack of capacity for investigation,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a professor of policy and government at George Mason University, who studies organized crime in Mexico. “The names of politicians turn up in trial — but nothing happens.”

She said that a long history of impunity had left Mexicans feeling hopeless and asking, “Why should I care?”

Mr. Peña Nieto, whose six-year term ended late last year, has made no public statement in response to the allegations. But close associates from his administration issued denials on his behalf, including his former chief of staff, Francisco Guzmán, who is not related to the accused drug trafficker and who called the allegations “false, defamatory and absurd.”

“The government of @EPN was the one that located, arrested and extradited Joaquín Guzmán Loera,” Mr. Guzmán said on Twitter. “Since the beginning of the administration, it was a priority objective of the security cabinet.”

While some Mexicans allowed for the possibility that there might be some truth in the allegations made by Alex Cifuentes Villa, a Colombian drug trafficker who worked closely with the Mexican drug lord from 2007 to 2013, doubt seemed to prevail among those who followed the issue.

“We have a very bad experience with protected witnesses,” said Max Kaiser, a Mexican lawyer who helped write Mexico’s anticorruption laws. “We know that protected witnesses can say anything.”

He said that the lack of reaction in Mexico less reflected resignation than a lack of confidence in the source of the allegation.

“What people are waiting for is that these allegations are backed up with evidence,” he said, adding that if the allegations were proven, it would be “a major scandal.”

“If nothing more is presented,” he continued, “it would just be hearsay from a narcotrafficker hoping for some kind of benefit.”

María Celia Toro, a political analyst at the Colegio de México, a university in Mexico City, said that Mexicans have been conditioned by “a long history of false accusations.”

She added, “The most sensible thing to do is to wait.”

Many observers pointed out that if Mr. Guzmán had, indeed, paid Mr. Peña Nieto $100 million, then he did not get much bang for his buck, since he was eventually extradited to the United States by the president. Mr. Cifuentes dated the alleged bribe to October 2012 and Mr. Guzmán was captured for the first time in February 2014. He later escaped from prison only to be recaptured in January 2016 and extradited in January 2017.

“It isn’t logical that you would pay a bribe so that in a few years you will be captured,” said Juan Alberto Cedillo, a Mexican journalist who has investigated Mexican organized crime groups for more than a decade.

In addition, Mr. Peña Nieto might have surmised that any deals the two men had brokered would likely have arisen during judicial proceedings in the United States.

“For all his faults and flaws, Peña Nieto captured Chapo and extradited him, knowing full well that any information would filter out,” said Alejandro Hope, a security expert with a Mexican consulting firm, the Group of Economists and Associates. “The guy was being hunted down from Day 1 of Peña Nieto’s administration.”

Some who have questioned the veracity of Mr. Cifuentes’s testimony also pointed out that Mr. Peña Nieto is still in Mexico. He attended the funeral of a former governor of his home state several days ago, his first public appearance since leaving office. Were he guilty, some contended, he might have taken a page from the playbook of other politicians and fled, or gone into hiding.

During Mr. Peña Nieto’s term in office, his administration and his party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, were tarred by corruption scandals, including several that implicated powerful former governors. The president saw his initial popularity begin to wane when his wife purchased a home from a government contractor on favorable terms.

The allegations leveled against Mr. Peña Nieto this week were on a completely different scale. But even the former president’s political opponents are treading lightly. Senator Marco Gama of the conservative National Action Party said that the party was waiting to see if the trial in Brooklyn would produce any evidence to back up the accusations.

“To start an investigation, you need proof,” he said. And none has been presented.

Hours after Mr. Cifuentes gave his account, federal prosecutors filed a sealed motion seeking to limit similar testimony. When the motion was unsealed on Wednesday evening, it showed that prosecutors had accused Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers of trying to “create a public sideshow in an attempt to damage United States foreign relations.”

On Wednesday morning, the judge in the case pointed out that Mr. Cifuentes had not testified about something he had done or seen himself, but had merely told the jury something that Mr. Guzmán had told him. Maybe, he suggested to Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers, the prosecutors did not believe Mr. Guzman had been “entirely candid.”

Still, some Mexicans felt the need to do something — to protest, to investigate, and if it were the case, to prosecute Mr. Peña Nieto.

“They should try him, here or there — wherever,” said Armando Venado, 58, a salesman from the town of Texcoco, outside Mexico City. “We’re so accustomed to corruption that nobody does anything. Nobody protests.”

Marina Franco and Daniel Melchor contributed reporting from Mexico City, and Alan Feuer from New York.

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Five deaths blamed on storms that dump snow, rain on California

ATLANTA (REUTERS) – At least five people have died in severe rain and snowstorms that blanketed parts of California with at least 1.5m of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains this week, besides triggering flooding and mudslides, officials said.

Forecasters expect the bitter weather to push eastwards into the Rockies and United States Midwest through the weekend, while the California Highway Patrol said rain-slicked highways led to two fatal accidents that killed four people.

A family of three, including a one-year-old baby, died in El Dorado County on Tuesday (Jan 15), after their car spun across a rain-soaked freeway to hit another car, the San Francisco Chronicle said.

Another man died in a storm-related car wreck on Wednesday in Napa County, highway patrol dispatchers said, but no further details were immediately available.

One man in Oakland was killed after being struck by a tree, uprooted by the wind and rain, that fell on a homeless encampment, media said.

High winds could topple more trees as the soil gets wetter and more saturated, the National Weather Service (NWS) warned.

Police in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties ordered evacuations on Tuesday from areas damaged by last year’s wildfires because of the risk that heavy rain could trigger mud and debris flows on charred hillsides.

The snow and rain were brought by a one-two punch of weather, after one Pacific storm hit California on Monday (Jan 14) and a second, larger storm arrived on Wednesday, forecasters said.

Both are expected to sweep back-to-back through the Rockies and Midwest, gathering more strength from moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters said, before hitting the Ohio Valley and the North-east early next week.

Significant road closures and travel delays remain likely in the Los Angeles area through Friday as storm remnants linger, said Mr Marc Chenard, a forecaster with the NWS’ Weather Prediction Centre in College Park, Maryland.

The risk of flash flooding and rockslides persists, he said.

“Some areas in the Sierras will get another 5 inches of rain after the 3 inches that already fell, with significant snow fall above 6,000 feet.”

The weather is a boon for farmers and ski areas, however, as most of California is recovering from years of drought, the United States Drought Monitor said.

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Climate change to cause more damage to Canada’s northern roads than previously feared: study

The impact of climate change on roads and other crucial structures in Canada’s North is likely to be even greater than feared, says new detailed research.

“These are greater impacts than anything I’m aware of,” said John Pomeroy, head of the University of Saskatchewan’s Global Water Futures program and lead author on a recently published paper.

Scientists have long warned that Canada’s northwest corner is warming more quickly than almost any other spot on the globe.

Using modelling techniques so detailed they take a supercomputer to process, Pomeroy and his colleagues say they’ve looked more closely than any other researchers into how temperatures are likely to play out over the next century.

They concluded that, if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current level, temperatures in the area around Inuvik, N.W.T. will go up by six degrees on top of the three degrees they’ve already risen.

“It’s hard to imagine what that world would even look like,” Pomeroy said.

Still, they’ve tried.

The researchers project about 70 per cent more snow will fall, but the snow season will shrink by almost a month.

That means spring runoff will more than double, causing the kind of heavy flows and floods that wash out links such as the Dempster Highway, Canada’s only route from the south all the way to the Arctic coast.

This photo taken Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009, shows the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories, Canada. Seas rising from global warming and land sinking as permafrost thaws are threatening the Arctic community.

They say roads in winter will be vulnerable to a phenomenon in which melted groundwater seeps to the surface, then refreezes into a thick layer of ice.

Permafrost holding up buildings and roads will melt and retreat by another 25 centimetres.

“They’re already seeing some of these problems,” Pomeroy said. “Washouts are a common occurrence.”

The predictions are based on a modelling technique so precise that it can zero in on an area as small as four square kilometres. That’s small enough to predict the impact of thunderstorms that can produce flood-causing rainfall.

Pomeroy said the model’s accuracy has been checked by using it to “predict” past weather. It’s considered accurate if the results from the model match what actually happened.

“The model replicated current weather very accurately.”

The study has major implications for construction in the North.

Last year, the federal government committed $570 million over 10 years for roads and other infrastructure in the N.W.T. The last link of the Dempster, from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, was opened last summer.

Territorial governments have also been trying to open up areas for oil and gas development.

“It’s going to be a challenge throughout the North,” Pomeroy said.

The Arctic study is only the first region to which the new model will be applied. Researchers at Global Water Futures are working on similar studies for the Rocky Mountains, the prairies and the boreal forest, as well as specific watersheds such as the Bow River flowing into Calgary.

The Boreal Forest is seen from a helicopter near Cochrane Ontario on August 24, 2010.

Pomeroy said the impacts will be less if the world is able to reduce its carbon emissions, but right now, that doesn’t look likely.

“This isn’t necessarily the future we’ll have. But it’s the one we’re headed for.”

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North America's eastern winter: Freeze, thaw, freeze

After some relief from the cold temperatures, another Arctic freeze is on its way to eastern parts of the US and Canada.

    After days of extremely cold temperatures, Friday felt like spring in the northeastern part of the United States and eastern Canada.

    Toronto registered 13 degrees Celsius, (14C above average), New York City’s Central Park had a reasonable 8C, and Washington, DC recorded a ridiculous 18C, (12C above normal). Given that last weekend it was about -10C with snow on the ground, this was a significant warming, and thaw.

    After two weeks below freezing, the salt water Cape Cod Canal has a surface of chunky ice. Temperatures have regularly dropped below -15C at night in Massachusetts and Rhode Island since the end of last year. This is well below the freezing point of sea water, which is typically -2C. A coastguard boat was breaking ice in the Boston Harbour on Thursday.

    The record-breaking Arctic freeze at the start of the year has frozen much of the Great Lakes’ surface. Rivers in the northeast flow with pancake ice on the surface; ice chunks are causing jams under bridges. The rapid thaw of snow with the falling of warm rain is now putting residents in New England under risk of flooding.

    But the warmth and flood risk will be short-lived. Another wave of Arctic air is rapidly advancing from the Midwest.

    Chicago had a warm 15C day on Thursday. Overnight the figure dropped to -5C, a temperature which was maintained on Friday. Saturday is likely to be no warmer than -8C.

    The same thing happened in Toronto on Friday. In 18 hours, the temperature dropped 23 degrees Celsius, down to -12C, which was last seen less than a week ago. As this Arctic front marches eastwards again, winter weather warnings are in force from Kentucky to Maine.

    Icy roads in Arkansas and Tennessee caused numerous vehicle collisions. Freezing rain in Pennsylvania and New York could bring down power lines, as well as slicken roads. Snow is expected to follow.

    Snow was reported on Friday as far south as Louisiana.

    Atlanta, Georgia felt the cold slap as well, as temperatures dropped from 14C to -2C.

    Rochester, New York reported 10cm of snow overnight as the temperature fell from 15C to -7C.

    Ultimately the rapid drop in temperature will be the most obvious change for the eastern parts of the US and Canada.

    Sunday’s high, although in the sunshine, will be -9C in Toronto, -5C in Boston, -4C in New York City.

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    Donald Trump 'undermining global press freedom': CPJ

    US president has had the most negative effect on press freedom worldwide, according to a journalism advocacy group.

      Washington, DC – Donald Trump has been awarded a tongue-in-cheek prize for “undermining global press freedom” by a journalism advocacy group, after the US president’s first year in office was dominated by personal attacks on media outlets and reporters.

      Trump topped the list of world leaders accused by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) of attempting to silence critics and censor citizens. 

      Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa programme director, said Trump was awarded the prize for “overall achievement” because of the effect he had “locally and internationally [on] the cause of press freedom”.

      “This is the president of the United States and what he says matters,” Mansour told Al Jazeera.

      The ironic awards were handed out this week to various heads of state who have “gone out of their way to attack the press and undermine the norms that support freedom of the media”, the group said.

      The list also included Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

      1,000 tweets

      Over the past year, the Trump administration has accused media outlets of spreading “fake news”, an epithet that has been since adopted by leaders in countries across the world.

      Trump was also named runner-up in the “most thin-skinned” category, losing to Erdogan.

      The US president’s response to criticism in the media has been frequent, ranging from issuing threats to sue outlets or having their broadcast licenses revoked, to making suggestions that US libel laws be changed to make it easier to go after news organisations.

      Since 2015, when he first declared his presidential candidacy, Trump has posted about 1,000 tweets that criticise or disparage the press, according to a tally by the Columbia Journalism Review.

      Using Twitter as his social media tool of choice, Trump has regularly insulted media outlets, calling them “garbage”, “sad” or “failing”.

      He has also called for various journalists to be fired and for certain media organisations to be boycotted.

      On the campaign trail, Trump mocked a New York Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition which affects the functioning of the joints.

      Trump’s latest attack has focused on Michael Wolff, author of the new White House tell-all book, Fire and Fury. Trump’s lawyers had attempted to block its publication while a spokeswoman for the president said the book was full of “ridiculous lies”.

      Journalists jailed

      Meanwhile, the number of imprisoned journalists reached a record high last year, with 262 journalists behind bars worldwide at the end of 2017, CPJ reported.

      The group said Russia and China hold the tightest grip on their respective media.

      Using censorship and internet controls, as well as harassment and imprisonment, Beijing has restrained the work of its journalists. Under Putin, Russian independent media has slowly dissipated as journalists were either killed, jailed or harassed, according to CPJ.

      This week, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was named runner-up for CPJ’s “most outrageous use of terror laws against the press” award. At least 20 journalists were imprisoned in Egypt at the end of last year, the group said.

      The de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, won the prize for the “biggest backslider in press freedom” for security officials’ harassment of journalists trying to report on the crisis affecting the majority-Muslim Rohingya ethnic group.

      The UN has termed the attacks against the minority “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

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      El Chapo Trial: What We Know About the Trafficker Who Incriminated a Mexican President

      Alex Cifuentes Villa was born with the drug trade in his blood.

      As the youngest member of a storied narco dynasty, Mr. Cifuentes was already helping his father dry and pack cocaine at age 10. A few years later, he befriended a top aide to the drug lord Pablo Escobar who had moved into his building in Medellín, Colombia. He started going bowling with the aide’s bodyguards.

      But about a decade ago, Mr. Cifuentes, then in his 40s, was in dire straits, recovering from pancreatic surgery and saddled with a large debt from his recently murdered older brother. Needing money quickly, he testified this week, he was hired as a personal assistant to an old business associate: Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican kingpin known as El Chapo.

      Mr. Cifuentes worked with Mr. Guzmán for the next six years — arranging his schedule, managing his drug deals, buying his weapons, disposing of his enemies and even taking part in his vanity movie project. But he has spent the last four days betraying the defendant as a witness for the prosecution at his drug trial in New York.

      While his detailed testimony about Mr. Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel was damaging for his former boss’s defense, it was his revelation on Tuesday under cross-examination that will arguably be most remembered: Mr. Cifuentes testified that just before Mexico’s 2012 presidential election, Mr. Guzmán gave Enrique Peña Nieto, who ultimately won the contest, a $100 million bribe.

      The kingpin’s trial, in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, has seen its share of flamboyant figures in the last nine weeks — from Mr. Guzmán’s chief cocaine supplier, who altered his entire face with plastic surgery, to the 20-something I.T. expert who built El Chapo an encrypted cellphone system and then worked with the F.B.I. to hack it. But even in this parade of vivid characters, Mr. Cifuentes has stood out.

      Who else could describe for jurors, as he did Wednesday, how he once planned to “fuse” cocaine into “plastic cubes” and ship it to Canada with the help of twin brothers in the Mafia? Mr. Cifuentes also said he lied about his true occupation on an application for Mexican citizenship, saying he sold “submersible plants.”

      Federal prosecutors have said in court filings that Mr. Cifuentes has an “unorthodox” interest in the occult (which, they noted, he picked up from watching the Discovery Channel) and on several occasions has gone to see a witch doctor. He said he once took a trip to Ecuador to buy cocaine for Mr. Guzmán, filling a cooler with $1 million and traveling the high seas in a six-person boat.

      Mr. Cifuentes first grew close to Mr. Guzmán in late 2007 when he went to live with the drug lord (and his entourage of secretaries, maids and bodyguards) in a series of secret hide-outs in the Sierra Madre mountains. Before he arrived, Mr. Cifuentes said, Mr. Guzmán was living in a rustic hut with plastic folding chairs and makeshift wooden furniture. It was only after he showed up, he claimed, that Mr. Guzmán acquired modern amenities like a plasma-screen television.

      In the next six years, Mr. Cifuentes was involved in nearly every aspect of Mr. Guzmán’s business. His own personal assistant, Andrea Velez Fernandez, once tried to help the kingpin bribe an army general whom she was supplying with “female friends” from a modeling firm she ran. When Mr. Guzmán later wanted Ms. Velez dead, Mr. Cifuentes said he took the contract, sending his wife to Canada to hire a local group of Hell’s Angels for the hit.

      His ties to Mr. Guzmán ended shortly after Mr. Cifuentes was arrested by Mexican authorities in late 2013; he was apprehended at a modest ranch in the outskirts of Culiacán that was protected by the kingpin’s personal bodyguards, a team known as the Anthrax Group. Within a year, he testified, his brother Jorge, who was already in custody in the United States, persuaded him to cooperate with the prosecutors on Mr. Guzmán’s case.

      The Cifuentes family had not always gotten along so well. On Wednesday, Mr. Cifuentes told jurors that he had once asked his nephew to kill his niece’s boyfriend after he suspected the man of being an informant. Some years later, after the nephew tried to kidnap his grandmother — Mr. Cifuentes’s mother — he tried to have the nephew murdered, too.

      When Mr. Cifuentes first appeared on the witness stand on Thursday, he nodded at Mr. Guzmán in a solemn way that seemed to say, “This is how it ends, old friend.” Returning the gesture, Mr. Guzmán nodded back.

      And so began a four-day litany of stories, which Mr. Cifuentes told with his chin held high — not so much out of arrogance, it seemed, but to better see through his two transplanted corneas. His accounts touched on serious subjects, like Mr. Guzmán’s alleged bribe to Mr. Peña Nieto, but also on frivolous ones, including how another one of the kingpin’s top lieutenants once gave members of his inner circle custom-made “Cartel de Sinaloa” baseball caps.

      In the end, Mr. Cifuentes said on Tuesday, he had enjoyed himself during his 40-year career, making money, losing money, spending it on cars and watches for his girlfriends.

      “A good life,” he offered with a shrug.

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      Community need prompts Men’s Mission in London to add 10 emergency beds until April

      After a year with an average occupancy rate of 103 per cent, the Men’s Mission in London has added 10 temporary overflow emergency beds to alleviate overcrowding.

      Mission Services of London, which also operates Rotholme Women’s and Family Shelter, added the beds at the start of the year. They’ll remain in place through the busiest months, until April.

      The Men’s Mission currently has 121 emergency shelter beds, including the 10 new temporary beds.

      “There were certainly periods during the fall of 2018 where we were pushing over 121 beds. That led us to believe that when we hit the months where we know where occupancy would be higher, that 121 would be pushed,” Gordon Russell, director of shelters at Mission Services, told 980 CFPL.

      “The city of London called us together as a system and said, ‘What are we going to do?’ One approach was to add 10 additional, temporary beds at the Men’s Mission for a 16-week period and we actually opened those beds on Jan. 2.”

      Russell added that the number of those experiencing homelessness has not increased substantially, but those in need of emergency housing are staying at shelters for longer periods.

      “What we are experiencing more often than not is individuals who have been experiencing homelessness more frequently,” he said.

      “They’re accessing emergency shelters, or in some cases urban camping, for much longer periods of time.”

      Russell notes emergency shelters don’t want to become permanent shelters, and the aim is to help people move from homelessness to finding long-term housing.

      The Rotholme shelter for families has seen extremely high occupancy rates as well. At one point, Mission Services reported occupancy rates of 195 per cent and appealed to the public for $10,000 in donations just to make it through the week of Sept. 24.

      Once the shelter reached capacity, it began to put up families in area hotels and motels. The London Free Press reported in mid-December that Mission Services of London concluded the program was unsustainable and would be cancelled, though families already staying in hotels and motels would not be kicked out.

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      Goldman Sachs's tactic in 1MDB fraud case: Smear ex-partner Tim Leissner

      NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – They sound like the ingredients of a pulpy thriller: Bigamy. Secret religious conversions. A doctorate from a mail-order diploma mill. Affairs with powerful women.

      The sordid list – a mixture of facts, accusations and insinuations, packaged in a glossy slide show – represents the crux of a well-orchestrated campaign by Goldman Sachs to discredit one of its former partners and to minimise the Wall Street bank’s role in the looting of a big Malaysian investment fund.

      In recent presentations to US regulators and law-enforcement authorities, according to people familiar with their contents, Goldman executives and their lawyers have depicted Tim Leissner, a former top investment banker, as a master con man, someone so sneaky that even the retired military intelligence officers who work for the bank couldn’t sniff him out.

      The scorched-earth tactics, especially against someone who had been a star banker, reflect just how worried Goldman is about the criminal investigations into its role in the theft of at least US$2.7 billion from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, sovereign wealth fund.

      One big reason for concern is that senior Goldman officials, including the bank’s chief executive at the time, helped win Malaysian business. And the relationship became a crucial engine of profits for the bank, generating about US$600 million in fees.

      The bank’s hope is that by casting Leissner as a rogue employee, Goldman will reduce its legal and reputational liability.

      On Wednesday, in a sign of how the stakes are rising, Goldman disclosed that in the fourth quarter of 2018 it set aside an additional US$516 million to cover potential legal and regulatory penalties, including those related to 1MDB. And executives said Goldman could owe US$2 billion on top of what it has already put in its reserves.

      “For Leissner’s role in that fraud, we apologise to the Malaysian people,” David M. Solomon, the bank’s chief executive, told analysts Wednesday. “As you would expect, we have looked back and continue to look back to see if there is anything that we as a firm could have done better.”

      A Goldman spokesman, Michael DuVally, said that since Leissner left the bank in 2016, Goldman found new violations of its internal policies “that we have shared with the Department of Justice and other relevant authorities.”

      While it’s not uncommon for companies to defend themselves by blaming lone employees, Goldman’s ad hominem attacks on Leissner stand out for their aggressive, charged nature. The bank has not presented authorities with proof to substantiate all of its allegations, and some of them – including a focus on Leissner supposedly converting to Islam on two occasions – are, at best, inflammatory.

      Leissner, 48, has been criminally charged by US and Malaysian prosecutors with bribery and money laundering in connection with the theft from 1MDB. He pleaded guilty last year to the US charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced in June. His lawyer did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

      For years, Leissner was one of Goldman’s most powerful dealmakers in Asia. Among other things, he helped Goldman win lucrative assignments selling bonds for 1MDB. Leissner facilitated at least one meeting between Goldman’s chief executive at the time, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and a Malaysian financier named Jho Low, who subsequently was charged as the mastermind of the 1MDB theft.

      Goldman suspended Leissner in 2016, and the bank’s executives have publicly faulted him for lying to Goldman and snaring the bank in the fraud.

      But in private meetings with federal and state officials and employees in recent months, Goldman has intensified its efforts to blame Leissner, according to five people familiar with the bank’s campaign who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

      In November, for example, the bank met federal prosecutors in Washington and delivered a lengthy PowerPoint presentation that sought to paint Leissner as a man practiced in the art of deception, according to two people familiar with the presentation.

      One slide in the presentation said that Leissner may have been briefly married to two women at the same time.

      Another slide included a photo of Leissner praying with other men, as well as images of a government-issued ID card that showed Leissner describing himself as Muslim. The people familiar with the presentation said Goldman officials used the slide to claim that Leissner twice converted to Islam in order to impress wealthy Muslim women he was dating.

      The inch-thick presentation also accused Leissner of having had a sexual relationship with at least one Goldman client and of having received a mail-order Ph.D. from a now-defunct university, the people said.

      It isn’t clear what evidence Goldman has of the alleged affair, which bank officials believe took place before Leissner married the fashion designer and model Kimora Lee Simmons in 2013.

      In addition to the Justice Department, Goldman delivered similar multi-hour presentations to bank regulators, the people said. As well as the section seeking to discredit Leissner, the presentation outlined the vetting Goldman performed before agreeing to sell bonds for 1MDB. It also had a section on Low, including clips from news articles describing him as a promising entrepreneur and investor.

      In part, Goldman is using the presentation to argue that, given Leissner’s supposed slipperiness, the bank’s compliance system should not be faulted for failing to detect his scheme.

      The bank also is hoping to dissuade authorities from relying on any testimony or cooperation Leissner might provide and that could put Goldman in a bad light.

      As part of his guilty plea last year, Leissner admitted to misappropriating at least US$50 million from 1MDB’s bond offerings and to deceiving Goldman about Low’s role in those deals.

      But Leissner also told a federal judge that hiding his actions from Goldman’s compliance department was “very much in line” with a wider culture at the firm, especially in Asia.

      Senior Goldman executives have been spreading the blame-the-rogue-employee message to its partners, according to six people familiar with Goldman’s efforts.

      In December, Goldman held an annual dinner for retired partners at the Conrad Hotel in Lower Manhattan. Solomon talked about the 1MDB investigation, explaining that Goldman has muscular compliance programmes but would not always be able to protect against ill-intentioned employees, according to five people who were there.

      They said they were struck by Solomon’s bitter tone.

      Goldman’s efforts to defend itself by attacking Leissner’s behaviour could raise more questions for the bank. Some Goldman executives knew about his alleged romantic relationships with clients, but the bank did not object to them until after Leissner became a target of investigations.

      Five current and former Goldman bankers said in interviews that they were aware of Leissner’s hard-partying reputation and romantic overtures to wealthy women, including several who were executives at companies that were bank clients.

      Joe Ravitch, a former Goldman partner who helped hire Leissner from Lehman Bros. in Hong Kong in 1999, said it was common knowledge that Leissner was misbehaving.

      “A lot of the people that worked for me would tell me the stories about Tim being a wild man,” he said.

      In one case, Goldman investigated Leissner’s relationship with a top female executive of a Malaysian media company, but the bank ultimately didn’t take any action against Leissner, according to a Goldman official.

      In Malaysia, where Goldman itself has been criminally charged, prosecutors and senior government officials are unlikely to be receptive to the bank’s claim that Leissner was a lone wolf.

      “The whole world knows that their senior executives were involved with wrongdoing and don’t feel that guilty, so I think there needs to be some accountability,” Malaysia’s finance minister, Lim Guan Eng, said Monday.

      “You have to show genuine remorse for what has happened. You must pay the penalty.”

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      Mexico's presidential race chaotic as independents join the race

      The 2018 presidential election in Mexico will allow candidates to run without party backing, but with voter discontent running high, every candidate will have an uphill battle.

        Mexicans head to the polls on the first of July to elect a new president – and it’s already shaping up to be an historic race.

        It’s the first time candidates can run without the backing of a party, meaning dozens of people are vying for the top job.

        But the winner will have to combat voter mistrust and apathy.

        Al Jazeera’s David Mercer reports from Mexico City.

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