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OPINION: Red Roses for Valentine, Red Card for Corruption

By Owei Lakemfa

This is Valentine week with billions around the world expressing love for their families and  loved ones. It coincided with the Christian Ash Wednesday with individuals being told: “Love Thy Neigbour, As Thy Self” even as Jesus loved humanity. However, the message from  Palestine, the home of Christianity,  was not love, but hatred for the neigbour. While many teenagers soaked in the Valentine, Ahed Tamimi, 17, is spending the season in Israeli military jail. On Valentine eve, the Israeli government hurled the teenager before a Military Court on a dozen charges which included assault, stone throwing and incitement.

The  trial which will resume on March 11, will be in secret like the trials of other Palestinians who resist the Israeli occupation. The Tamimi  story, is one of an unarmed girl on December 15, 2016, confronting the Israeli soldiers who had shot her cousin, Mohammed in the head. In the process, she slapped an Israeli soldier. She is not the only  Palestinian underage in prison, as at this week of love, there are 330 Palestinian  children in Israeli jails as prisoners of conscience.

Ironically, just as the imprisoned Palestinian children received  no red roses for Valentine, so did Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu not get. On Valentine eve, the   Israeli police  declared that there was hard evidence to indict and convict him for  bribery, fraud and breach of public trust. One of the charges is that Netanyahu for over fifteen  years received gifts (bribes) worth over $283,000 from Hollywood Producer, Arnon Milchan in exchange for pushing  the Milchan Law, which would have ensured that Jews who return to live in Israel from abroad were exempt from paying taxes for 10 years.

A second charge is that the Prime Minister asked the management  of an Israeli newspaper ‘Yediot Aharonot’ for positive coverage in exchange for help in reining in a rival publication. He is also implicated in a bribery scandal involving Australian billionaire James Packer with the latter confessing to the crimes. There are other accusations such as  using state funds to pay for  private family construction. But Netanyahu is confident the police will fail.  He boasted: “Over the years, I have been the subject of at least 15 enquiries and investigations …Some have ended with thunderous police recommendations like those of tonight. All of those attempts resulted in nothing, and this time again they will come to nothing.” Natanyahu  is determined not to go to jail like Ehud Olmert, Israeli  Prime Minister, 2006-2009 who spent 27 months in jail for corruption before parole.

Not a few of us are praying for Netanyahu’s fall, not necessarily for corruption, but for world peace. Some  Israeli leaders  like Golda Meir and Ariel Sharon were  known to be hawkish, but compared to Netanyahu, they were doves.  Apart from the ceaseless attacks on Palestinians, seizure of their lands for ever expanding settlements, Netanyahu  just attacked neigbouring Syria, is forcing African immigrants out of the country, got Israel out of UNESCO and is accelerating the full conversion of East Jerusalem, which is owned by  the Palestinians, into an Israeli property.

He may yet be exonerated for corruption, but not so for South African President Jacob Zuma who was this week, given an ultimatum by the ruling Africa National Congress (ANC) to step down after he had been indicted for corruption, and his Deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa had taken over as the party leader.  Zuma has had to refund $23 million public funds he expended to renovate his private estate. He is like a cat with nine lives; he has survived eight impeachment attempts. But the ANC ultimatum may be the last attempt as it seems to sing the Nunc Dimitis to the Zuma era.

One President who has already fallen in the anti-corruption war is Ms. Park Geun-hye of South Korea who on Valentine eve, seemed to have moved one more step toward  jail when her confidante and aide, Choi Soon-sil, over whom she was impeached, was jailed  for twenty years. She was  sentenced  alongside  Shin Dong-bin, the Chairman of Lotte, the country’s fifth largest business conglomerate. The latter received a 30-month sentence. The verdict on the former President is due in the coming weeks.

Another President who faced accusations of corruption is Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine.  He had entered into an unholy alliance with the former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili a man who showed he was an unstable  personality from the days in 2008 when he  needlessly attacked, seized and humiliated Russian troops in an effort to be admitted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). He had thought naively that Europe and the United States would not allow the Russians retaliate. When the latter did, there was no nation willing to stand by Georgia while the Russians rolled over the country.

President  Poroshenko made Saakashvili an Ukrainian citizen in 2015, automatically losing his Georgian passport. Soon, the latter began series of campaigns and protests accusing the Ukrainian government of corruption. The latter stripped him of  his citizenship. Attempts to deport Saakashvili failed. Finally this Monday, Ukrainian security forces entered a Kiev restaurant, seized  and threw him into Poland; a stateless man. His supporters are continuing a campaign to vote out Poroshenko based on claims that he is a corrupt politician.

Another drama on corruption played out on Valentine eve, this time in Guatemala in a case that has embroiled the British charity, Oxfam in a second scandal within one week. Oxfam current Chairman, Juan Alberto Fuentes Knight who was also a former Guatamala Finance Minister  , was seized  along with a former  Guatemala President Alvaro Colom. They are accused of corruption in a  public bus scandal.  Oxfam is dealing with a sex scandal involving its workers in Haiti.

This same week, Swiss drug manufacturer, Novartis was accused of bribing senior Greek politicians and thousands of doctors. Two former Greek Prime Ministers, Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikrammenos were listed as some of the beneficiaries of the crime. The bribes were allegedly in order to approve over inflated contracts and push sales of Novartis Novartis drugs in the country.

Also this week, Romanian  Prime Minister  Viorica Dancila  offered her  key adviser   Darius Valcov, who is also a former Finance Minister, a Valentine gift by refusing to sack him after he was given an eight-year prison sentence for corruption and money-laundering.  Her argument is that the convict still has  room to appeal his sentence. So until he exhausts all his room for appeal, he stays out of jail and remains in government.

As Premier Dancila indicated, a red card does not mean the someone  convicted of corruption, is out or would automatically go to jail. Where Presidents and powerful people are involved, corruption may just well be another political game.

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