TIME Nigeria

Here Are 4 Challenges Nigeria’s New Leader Must Overcome

Nigeria Election
Sunday Alamba—AP President-elect Muhammadu Buhari speaks moments after he was presented with a certificate to show he won the election in Abuja, Nigeria on April 1, 2015.

For President-elect Buhari, winning Nigeria's tight election race is the easy part. Keeping Africa's biggest country afloat will be harder

When he defeated President Goodluck Jonathan at the polls on March 28, Muhammadu Buhari made history as the first opposition candidate in Nigeria to unseat a president through the ballot box. But the president-elect faces far greater challenges when, on May 29, he takes office and must confront Nigeria’s multiple problems, from an economy that has been hit by the falling price of oil, a government paralysed by corruption, and a security sector beset by one insurgency and threatened by another. If Buhari, 72, is to leave a legacy equal to his history-making victory, he will have to take on these challenges:

Cutting out corruption

Buhari’s All Progressives Congress [APC] party emblem is a broom, symbolizing his commitment to sweeping out the corruption that has plagued Nigeria for decades. He has a proven track record, too. Unlike most of his predecessors and successors, he did not use his time in power, as military president from 1983 to 1985, to enrich himself, and still lives in the modest home of a retired general. But even if he manages to resist the temptations of office, he will have to work with the political elites in his party who brought him to power, largely through Nigeria’s deeply entrenched system of political patronage and its attendant promises of favors and kickbacks. “The APC line is that there will be no corrupt individuals in Buhari’s cabinet, but there will have to be some wiggle room,” says Elizabeth Donnelley, assistant head of the Africa program at London’s Chatham House foreign policy institute. “Deals have been made, and things are owed.” Buhari may not be able to sweep away graft in the short term, but if he immediately strengthens existing anti-corruption institutions that had been intentionally weakened under previous administrations, such as Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and oversees the prosecution of standout cases, he will set the right tone. A good place to start would be an investigation into the country’s petroleum ministry, where an estimated $20 billion in oil revenue is thought to have gone missing, according to a 2014 report by Nigeria’s Central Bank.

Taming Boko Haram

In tackling the Islamist insurgency that has killed more than 13,000 over the past six years, Buhari faces a three-fold problem. With significant help from neighbors Chad and Niger, along with an estimated 100 foreign mercenaries, Nigeria’s army has managed to push Boko Haram out of all but three local districts, liberating territory roughly the size of Belgium. But in order to keep Boko Haram from re-grouping, Buhari will have to oversee a complete restructuring of an army hollowed out by years of neglect and corruption. He will also need to ramp up security and intelligence services as the insurgents, denied territory, resort increasingly to terror attacks. Two assaults in the country’s northeast over the weekend took several dozen lives, underscoring the urgency. Buhari will also need to strengthen the relationship with those countries assisting in the fight, whose leadership feels that they are doing the bulk of the work with little recognition.

The insurgency has devastated parts of Nigeria. The United Nation’s Deputy emergency relief coordinator, Kyung-wha Kang, says that some 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting, creating one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. More than 300 schools have been severely damaged or destroyed, and less than 40% of health facilities, in a historically underserved area, remain operational. Farmers have fled fighting in the country’s agricultural heartland, leading to rising food costs and the risk of widespread malnutrition.

It’s the economy, stupid

Nigeria may have surged past South Africa to become the continent’s biggest economy last year, but that growth has slowed. The International Monetary Fund estimates that economic growth will slow to 4.8% this year, down from 6.1% in 2014, and the Naira is down 17% against the dollar. Inflation is on the rise, and foreign reserves are at a historic low, largely due to the decline in oil and gas prices, which provide nearly 70% of government income. The oil and gas sector only accounts for about 16% of GDP, which means that if Buhari can help the government diversify its revenue base to better incorporate Nigeria’s booming entertainment and telecoms sector, he could oversee a return to better growth. The problem is that when it comes to economics, he is largely inexperienced, and will have select cabinet members with strong economic and business backgrounds. “I believe that Buhari is going to choose a very strong, good team in various departments, but most especially in economy,” Nigeria’s Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka told Bloomberg TV. “I think, like me, he’s an economic illiterate.”

Keeping the oil-rich delta area onside

To secure Nigeria’s economic growth, Buhari will have to prioritize his government’s relationship with the militants that upended the oil industry for much of the early 2000s. In 2009, then Vice President Jonathan negotiated a temporary amnesty deal with the militants that saw an end to the attacks on oil pipelines and kidnappings of foreign oil workers that made the region a no-go area and drove the price of oil to record highs. In exchange the militants, who claimed that they had long been denied the oil riches from their native lands, received generous payouts. The deal, which includes education stipends for some 30,000 residents, is set to expire at the end of 2015. If Buhari is not prepared to extend multi-million dollar contracts with local powerbrokers that make up a large portion of the amnesty agreement, the militants could respond with violence, igniting an uprising in the south even as he tackles the Boko Haram insurgency in the north. Buhari could extend the agreement, but better still would be to address the underlying issues: that the Delta’s oil wealth funds the nation with little in return for locals but environmental degradation and a few low-wage, low-skill jobs.

TIME China

China Former Security Chief Indicted on Corruption Charges

Zhou Yongkang on March 14, 2011 in Beijing, China
Feng Li—Getty Images Zhou Yongkang in Beijing on March 14, 2011

Zhou Yongkang is the highest-level official charged as part of President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign

(BEIJING) — Prosecutors say China’s ex-security Zhou Yongkang has been charged with bribery, abuse of power and the intentional disclosure of state secrets.

The announcement Friday by the country’s procuratorate follows a lengthy investigation that also has scrutinized Zhou’s former allies in government and the oil industry. Zhou had been under investigation since late 2013.

Zhou, a former Politiburo Standing Committee member, is the highest-level official charged as part of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign that began in late 2012.

TIME Congress

‘Girlfriend’ Issues at Heart of Robert Menendez Corruption Indictment

Ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez listens to testimony during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on March 11, 2015.
Mark Wilson–Getty Images Ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez listens to testimony during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on March 11, 2015.

Indictment alleges Menendez secured visas for donor's foreign girlfriends

When does a friendship become corrupt?

That question is at the heart of the Department of Justice’s case against Sen. Robert Menendez, who was charged on 14 counts including bribery and conspiracy Wednesday for allegedly accepting from a top donor-friend close to $1 million in gifts in exchange for political favors. Menendez is only the twelfth senator ever to be indicted.

To bolster their case, the federal authorities are claiming that the New Jersey Democrat improperly used his office in 2007 and 2008 to help the donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, bring three girlfriends to the United States on tourist and student visas.

Detailed in about ten pages of the indictment, Menendez and his office allegedly contacted officials at the State Department and U.S. embassy in the Dominican Republic to secure the visas. In one case, a woman prosecutors described as Melgen’s girlfriend—a Dominican model—and her sister were denied tourist visas by the U.S. embassy because an employee was “not fully convinced” of their travels’ motives. Melgen told Menendez that day and the senator told a staffer to “Call the Ambassador asap.” The women—ages 18 and 22—received their visas by the next month. The indictment also alleges that Menendez met with the women, meeting one for dinner at a swanky Miami hotel with Melgen and the two others at Melgen’s Dominican Republic Casa De Campo villa.

While the details of the allegations are salacious, the onus will be on the prosecutors to establish that the Melgen-Menendez friendship was actually an illegal exchange of gifts and services. The 68-page indictment also alleges that Menendez pressured the State Department to influence the Dominican Republic to ensure a major Melgen port security contract and that he improperly advocated on behalf of Melgen in his multimillion-dollar Medicare billing dispute.

Meredith McGehee, the policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, says that Menendez could be aided in the case by an exemption for gifts from personal friends, which she says provides a “very large safe harbor” for members and their staff. Melgen and Menendez’s friendship dates back to the early 1990s.

“I think the prosecutors actually face a big hurdle in demonstrating efficiently to a jury why these gifts that Menendez received do not fall into the personal friendship exemption,” she told TIME. “He’s been a public official for most of his adult life and public officials tend to collect a lot of ‘personal friends.’ That’s kind of their business.”

Menendez denied all charges Wednesday night and said that his prosecutors are “dead wrong.”

“I’m angry because prosecutors at the Justice Department don’t know the difference between friendship and corruption and have chosen to twist my duties as a senator—and my friendship—into something that is improper,” he said.

TIME indonesia

Canadian Teacher in Indonesia Found Guilty in Contentious Child-Rape Trial

Indonesia Child Abuse Charges
Dita Alangkara—AP Canadian school administrator Neil Bantleman sits inside a holding cell prior to the start of his trial in Jakarta on March 12, 2015

Critics say the trial was a sham aimed at closing the school

A Canadian teacher at a prestigious international school in Indonesia was found guilty of sexual assault on Thursday, following a four-month trial that ignited both accusations of judicial malfeasance and anti-Western sentiments in the Southeast Asian nation.

Canadian school administrator Neil Bantleman from Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS), formerly called Jakarta International School, faces 10 years behind bars for repeatedly raping three kindergarten-aged male students.

In the absence of physical evidence, the prosecutors largely built their case around testimony provided by the victims. However, the defendant’s legal team argue that young children were effectively forced to identify Bantleman and Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinant Tjiong as the culprits.

Prior to the pair’s arrests last summer, five of the school’s janitors were also found guilty of molesting one of the three pupils at JIS and were handed prison sentences ranging from seven to eight years in length. The group had initially admitted the charges, but later recanted and accused officials of beating them into a confession in detention. A sixth janitor tied to the incident died in custody after an apparent suicide.

Following the decision to arrest Bantleman and Tjiong, the U.S. embassy in Indonesia warned that allegations of the torture and shoddy legal work could further undermine the country’s standing. The JIS cases comes amid an international outcry over the pending execution of a group of drug traffickers, including the so-called Bali Nine duo, despite sustained pleas for clemency.

“The international community here, foreign investors, and foreign governments are all following this case and the case involving the JIS teachers very closely,” said U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Robert O. Blake in a statement published by the Wall Street Journal. “The outcome of these cases and what it reveals about the rule of law in Indonesia will have a significant impact on Indonesia’s reputation abroad.”

Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono said accusations that the janitors were tortured while in custody should have been considered at greater length by the judiciary before allowing the case against Bantleman and Tjiong to commence. In addition, the defense cited significant inconsistencies with the victims’ testimony.

“It should be enough for the judges to be dismissive of the prosecution,” Harsono tells TIME. “It is another black mark for the South Jakarta court’s reputation.” In a widely criticized verdict in February, a judge at the South Jakarta court ruled that the Corruption Eradication Commission had no legal basis to name the President’s nominee for police chief as a graft suspect.

Critics of the JIS trial have also contended that the case is nothing more than a thinly disguised ploy to shut down the school’s historic campus that resides on some of the sprawling Indonesian capital’s most valuable real estate.

“The judges must consider a $125 million lawsuit filed by the mother of one of the boys as motive for dragging the teachers into this criminal case,” the defendants’ legal team said in a statement, according to the Jakarta Post.

Officials from the country’s Indonesian Children’s Protection Commission had already accused the school’s administrators of fostering an environment that led to the rapes.

During a press conference last year, the head of the commission accused JIS of impropriety by tolerating kissing in public and employing gay teachers. Asrorun Ni’am Sholeh, the commission’s chairman, later added that “homosexuality in such environment could trigger sexual violence against children.”

— With reporting by Yenni Kwok

TIME Congress

New Jersey Senator Faces Corruption Charges

He's only the 12th senator to ever be indicted

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez was indicted Wednesday on corruption charges for improperly aiding a friend and major Democratic donor. He’s only the twelfth senator ever to be indicted.

A federal grand jury in New Jersey charged Menendez on 14 counts, including eight related to bribery and another on conspiracy. Federal authorities have been looking into whether Menendez, who rose from a tenement in Union City to become the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, exchanged political favors for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts and campaign contributions from a Florida eye doctor, who was also indicted Wednesday.

Throughout the federal probe, Menendez has repeatedly said he has committed no wrongdoing. In a lively news conference in Newark, New Jersey, on Wednesday evening, a defiant Menendez knocked the Justice Department in both English and Spanish, periodically halting to wait for fierce cheers to die down.

“I’m outraged that prosecutors at the Justice Department were tricked into starting this investigation three years ago with false allegations by those who have a political motive to silence me,” he said. “But I will not be silenced. I’m confident at the end of the day I will be vindicated and they will be exposed.”

“I’m angry and ready to fight because today contradicts my public service career and my entire life,” he said. “I’m angry because prosecutors at the Justice Department don’t know the difference between friendship and corruption and have chosen to twist my duties as a senator—and my friendship—into something that is improper,” he added. “They are dead wrong and I am confident that they will be proven so.”

And in a letter addressed to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Menendez said he would “temporarily” step down as Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“While there is no caucus rule that dictates that I do so, I believe it is in the best interests of the Committee, my colleagues, and the Senate which is why I have chosen to do so,” he explained, adding that he would “retain my membership and seniority” and “will once against ascend” to the position “upon the successful resolution of the allegations before me.”

There isn’t a party rule that forces Democratic senators in top positions to relinquish their leadership roles, as there is for Republicans. A few weeks ago, Reid said he would not “deal in hypotheticals” when asked if Menendez should step down from his Committee spot if charged. Menendez has been an influential voice in international affairs, as well as an occasional thorn in the Obama Administration’s side on issues regarding Iran and Cuba.

In a statement Wednesday, Reid, who voluntarily interviewed with DOJ and FBI officials last year as they investigated the corruption charges, said he appreciated Menendez’s “willingness” to temporarily step down. “He has been a consistent champion for the middle class,” Reid continued. “As I have said about both Democrats and Republicans, our justice system is premised on the principle of innocent until proven guilty and Senator Menendez should not be judged until he has his day in court.”

It’s the first time in Reid’s decade at the helm of the caucus that he has had to deal with a charged colleague. The last such Senate Democrat, Harrison A. Williams of New Jersey, was indicted 35 years ago.

Menendez allegedly intervened on behalf of the eye doctor, Salomon Melgen, in three major ways, the indictment details: to facilitate the visa applications of three of Melgen’s foreign girlfriends; to “pressure” the State Department and influence the Dominican Republic to ensure Melgen a 20-year, multi-million dollar port security contract; and to protest Medicare reimbursement audits alleging that Melgen—Medicare’s top-paid physician in 2012—overbilled the government by about $8.9 million.

In 2012, about six days after Melgen issued a $300,000 check to a political action committee benefiting Senate Democrats, the indictment states Menendez delved into his friend’s Medicare billing dispute, taking his position in a meeting with the chief of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and later with then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Menendez’s troubles came to light in January 2013, when FBI and HHS officers raided Melgen’s Florida offices after the conservative website Daily Caller ran an article that claimed Menendez paid two women in the Dominican Republic for sex at a gated oceanfront resort, where Melgen owned a home. While Menendez emphatically denied the report and the FBI found no evidence to support its claims, the Senator ended up personally reimbursing Melgen over $58,000 for two other private jet trips to the country in 2010, citing sloppy paperwork. Menendez did not disclose the free trips as required by Senate rules for three years and the chamber’s ethics committee reviewed the violation.

TIME brazil

Watch Tens of Thousands Demand Brazil President Rousseff’s Impeachment

Protesters say the President knew about a huge graft scandal at the state oil company Petrobras

More than 1 million people took to the streets across Brazil on Sunday to demonstrate against President Dilma Rousseff.

Many were calling for her impeachment over a massive corruption scandal while she was head of the state oil company Petrobras, Agence France-Presse reports.

Rousseff, 67, also faces anger over rising inflation and a weak economy, especially among lower-income voters who traditionally back her Workers’ Party, locally known as PT.

The biggest demonstration was in São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city, where some 500,000 people took to the streets, dressed in the yellow and green of the national flag. “Get out, Dilma; get out, PT!” they chanted. Rallies took place in 83 other towns and cities across the country, including the capital, Brasilia, where 40,000 people marched toward Congress.

Opposition parties backed the protests but didn’t go so far as to call for the President’s impeachment.

Petrobras officials allegedly accepted bribes totaling a whopping $3.8 billion in exchange for contracts for refineries, oil tankers and deep-sea platforms, with payments channeled to powerful politicians and political parties.

An investigation into dozens of prominent political figures is under way, but the President, who was chairwoman of the company’s board at the time, has not been directly implicated and denies any involvement.

After the protests, the government said it would introduce measures to fight corruption and impunity.

[AFP]

TIME China

5 Things to Know About China’s Execution of Business Tycoon Liu Han

CHINA-AUSTRALIA-CORRUPTION-POLITICS-HANLONG
AFP—AFP/Getty Images Citizens watch as police stand guard outside the Xianning Intermediate People's Court where Chinese mining tycoon Liu Han stands trial in Xianning, central China's Hubei province on March 31, 2014.

Liu Han was accused of leading a ring of "local thugs and vagrants" in Sichuan province

China executed prominent business tycoon Liu Han on Monday, for leading a “mafia-style” gang of loan sharks, gun runners and contract killers, according to detailed coverage by state-owned media.

The news “sent tremors through Sichuan’s political and business circles,” Xinhua news agency reported, not least because Liu seemed to be included in those circles. That raises a few questions about this mercurial establishment figure, such as:

Was he really an establishment figure?

Measured in wealth, certainly. As chairman of the Hanlong Group, a conglomerate of real estate, mining and energy businesses headquartered in Sichuan province, Liu, 49, had amassed assets totaling $6.4 billion at the time of his arrest, according to Xinhua news agency.

Forbes ranked him the 148th richest business person in China in 2012, and his dealings stretched from Sichuan province in western China to far-flung mining ventures in the U.S. and Australia.

Neither was he shy about flaunting his wealth. In one of the few interviews he granted to the press, Liu emerged from behind the wheel of a Ferrari (one of hundreds of luxury cars he had collected over the years) with a mink coat hanging from his shoulders, the Wall Street Journal reports.

What about political connections?

His influence was largely confined to advisory committees on the margins of the Communist Party, which he allegedly reinforced with bribery payments to local officials, according to testimony provided by his ex-wife, Liu Wei.

In the grand scheme of China’s crackdown on official corruption, however, his stature paled in comparison to ministers recently ousted from national offices, such as Bo Xilai, former Minister of Commerce, or Jiang Jiemin, who oversaw China’s vast network of state-owned enterprises.

If anything it was the nature of the charges brought against Liu that vaulted his case into the public eye.

What crimes did he allegedly commit?

Prosecutors accused Liu of running a crime syndicate of “local thugs and vagrants” in Guanghan, which had been involved in a campaign of intimidation, blackmail and at least nine lethal shootings since the early 1990s.

Investigators also accused Liu and 36 other defendants of running a network of gambling houses and an illicit arms trade, which reportedly resulted in the confiscation of 20 guns, 2,163 shotgun cartridges, and more than 100 knives.

Was he publicly known as a “kingpin?”

On the contrary, Liu’s public reputation prior to the trial was shaped by his philanthropic work, including a donation to the construction of a local elementary school in Sichuan province. He bore the Olympic torch during the 2008 relay in Beijing and served as deputy chairman of the Sichuan Chamber of Commerce.

But privately, local experts said he had a reputation for violent outbursts. “He is the sort of person who would throw a wine bottle at a celebrity’s head at public occasions if he was not happy,” Guo Yukuan, a corruption expert, told TIME.

Does the case end with Liu Han?

Investigators have linked Liu to the son of a much more powerful establishment figure: Zhou Yongkang, China’s former security chief. That’s fueling rumors that Zhou may become the highest-profile target yet in China’s widening investigations of corrupt party officials.

China’s President Xi Jinping famously vowed to take down both “tigers” and “flies” at the launch of a nationwide anti-graft campaign. Liu’s highly sensationalized downfall may only be the prelude to a much bigger trial to come.

Read More: China’s Biggest Graft Case In Decades Could be Coming Up

TIME mongolia

The Jailing of Foreigners in Mongolia Is Unnerving the Business Community

Justin Kapla
Justin Kapla/AP This undated photo provided by Justin Kapla shows Kapla, of SouthGobi Sands, a Mongolian mining company

In 2011, the resource-rich landlocked nation ranked as one of the fastest growing economies on earth, though falling commodity prices have since taken their toll

On Jan. 30, three men were sentenced to more than five years in prison for tax evasion in Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s capital. A tax case in a remote, landlocked nation’s capital might have gone unnoticed if not for the fact that the three men are foreigners: American Justin Kapla and Filipinos Hilarion Cajucom Jr. and Cristobal David. Rather than symbolizing due process in an emerging democracy, the trial’s numerous irregularities have raised fears that a country struggling with a resource curse has further dulled its economic prospects. Despite Mongolia’s trove of minerals, the first 11 months of 2014 saw foreign direct investment plummet 71%, year on year. “This case sends a message to foreign investors that if they want to do business here, they have to play by Mongolian rules,” says Munkhdul Badral Bontoi, a market analyst in Ulan Bator.

The three foreigners are former employees of a subsidiary of SouthGobi Resources, a Canadian mining outfit whose largest stakeholder is an arm of Rio Tinto, the Anglo-Australian mining giant. (Rio Tinto runs Oyu Tolgoi, the massive copper-and-gold mine that single-handedly contributes around 45% of Mongolia’s total exports.) SouthGobi, which was considering a majority-stake offer from a Chinese state-owned enterprise when its subsidiary’s offices were raided by Mongolian authorities in May 2012, was also fined around $18 million for evading taxes. The case dragged on for almost three years, with the expatriate trio barred from leaving the country, even though formal charges against them were not issued until just eight months ago.

U.S. Ambassador Piper Campbell attended the trial, and the U.S. embassy in Ulan Bator criticized the lack of adequate interpretation for the foreign defendants. “Because of these problems, the defendants stated during the trial that they could not understand the interpretation, nor could they express themselves clearly,” read a statement. “Mr. Kapla’s case has lasted nearly three years and the repeated delays and exit ban have caused him enormous hardship.”

Jackson Cox, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ulan Bator, who also attended the trial, had other serious concerns. “I want to be talking about investment and stronger trade between Mongolia and the U.S., but this makes it very hard for any of us, whether it’s the government or the private sector,” he says.

Mongolia’s economy has traced a roller-coaster journey in recent years. In 2011, the resource-rich nation ranked as one of the fastest growing economies on earth. In the previous decade, Mongolia’s economy had expanded tenfold, a remarkable development for a country that peacefully traded Soviet satellite status for democracy in 1990. But as resource nationalists claimed more political airspace, the welcome for foreign investment soured. Trading on fears that Mongolia’s mineral patrimony was being stolen by rapacious outsiders, foreign investment laws tightened. Further development of the Oyu Tolgoi mine has stalled, as Rio Tinto and the government bicker over how revenues will be apportioned, delaying billions of dollars in financing. In 2013, scores of mining projects were scrutinized by local courts, with some exploration licenses pulled for alleged graft. Meanwhile, global commodity prices have declined, further wounding the Mongolian economy.

Facing an economic crisis, Mongolians may be ready to reconsider the need for foreign investment. Earlier this year, the government designated nearly one-fifth of the country ready for new mineral exploration, a move opposed not only by resource nationalists but environmentalists as well. Some of the mining-exploration licenses that had been suspended two years ago are being restored. This month, the results of a referendum held by text message, under the direction of new Prime Minister Chimed Saikhanbileg, found that more than half of 302,000 respondents — around 10% of the national population, although some people have more than one mobile phone number — wanted major projects like Oyu Tolgoi to move forward rather than accept budgets cuts and other belt-tightening measures.

SouthGobi and the three men plan to appeal the sentences. The case has highlighted perceived flaws in Mongolia’s judicial system, even as President Tsakhia Elbegdorj vows legal reform. Legal observers wonder why the tax authorities were not more involved in the trial, which was considered a criminal rather than a civil case. Kapla only had executive authority at the SouthGobi subsidiary for six months of the five-year period during which the mining firm was accused of tax delinquency. The day before the sentencing, the prosecutor advised the court that the three men should be subject to fines, without recommending jail time. The next day, however, the prosecutor said the men deserved six years’ imprisonment.

Other cases have raised eyebrows. Last year, the former chairman of the nation’s Petroleum Authority, Dashzeveg Amarsaikhan, died unexpectedly while in custody as a suspect in a money-laundering case. His supporters allege he had complained of ill health while in prison but his requests for medical care were ignored. He died at the same Detention Facility 461 where the three SouthGobi former employees are now being held.

TIME Thailand

Tourists Are Reporting a Dramatic Surge in Harassment by Thai Police

A tourist policeman stands guard as tourists walk along Khao San road in Bangkok
Chaiwat Subprasom—Reuters A policeman stands guard as tourists walk along Khaosan Road in Bangkok on Jan. 19, 2012

The Land of Smiles? How about the Land of Shakedowns?

Mastercard’s 2014 Global Destination Cities Index recently ranked Bangkok as the second most visited destination in the world after London. Spend a few days this hedonistic metropolis and you’ll soon understand why, for it offers an almost unbeatable mix of culture, edgy nightlife, cheap shopping, comfortable hotels, warm weather and — who can say no? — Thai cuisine.

But since the May 22 coup d’état that saw the ouster of a democratically elected government and martial law declared across the country, many tourists and expatriates in Bangkok have fallen prey to a criminal practice. The victims have little recourse when reporting incidents to the police, because the perpetrators are police officers.

“If you go to Sukhumvit Road, you can see the police looking for tourists who are smoking or drop a cigarette butt, then they ask them for their passport and make them pay 2,000 baht [just over $60]. I see this happening all the time,” says anticorruption politician Chuwit Kamolvisit.

“[And] when the tourists come out of Soi Cowboy [a notorious red-light area], the police ask them if they’ve had drugs and then make them do a pee test on the side of the road. If they don’t want to do the pee test, they have to pay 20,000 baht [about $610].”

Being a former brothel owner, Chuwit’s word isn’t exactly gospel in Thailand. But his claims are apparently corroborated by dozens if not hundreds of first-person reports in the form of local newspaper articles, complaints to embassies, blogs and social-media postings. Some believe that the coup, by disrupting traditional avenues for corruption, has forced aberrant police officers to look for new targets.

On Dec. 10, British Ambassador Mark Kent tweeted, “Met Tourism Minister this morning. Covered range of issues, including reports of stop and search in Bangkok.”

The Twitter feed of Joe Cummings, the former Lonely Planet author who practically ​put Thailand on the backpacker map, is riddled with stories detailing police harassment and extortion. “Random police searches of foreigners in BKK is getting bad,” reads a typical entry dated Dec. 6. “Many reports of innocent tourists forced to pay bribes.”

Then there’s this scathing letter to the editor by tourist Reese Walker published Nov. 29 in the Bangkok Post: “Stopped, frisked and searched. When we asked what reason was for the search, police simply laughed at us. The police even asked my fiance to perform a urine test on the side of the road … [We] won’t be recommending other people to visit Thailand based on two frightening incidents of what we believe to be racial profiling.”

Walker’s letter gives me a real sense of déjà vu because when I was assignment in Bangkok last month, I too became the victim of a police shakedown.

It was Christmas Eve and I was at the upstairs area of a terrace bar in the Silom Road area having a late-night drink. At around 2 a.m. I called it a night and descended to the ground floor. There I saw half a dozen police officers searching the premises and interrogating the bartender, who was handcuffed on a chair. An officer detained me straight away. “What’s going on?” I asked, identifying myself as a journalist.

He made a menacing fist at me, which convinced me to pipe down.

About 15 minutes later, another police officer produced a bag of white powder, shook it near my face and accused me of buying it. I emphatically denied the claim. Meanwhile, other police officers began helping themselves to drinks from the bar. When the bartender protested, they kicked him in the shins.

Eventually, a police officer took me outside where a Thai woman told me if I paid the equivalent of $15,200, I would be released. I told her I hadn’t done anything and would not pay a cent. I was taken back inside, where officers had now detained another four Westerners present at the bar. They then took all five of us in taxis to a nearby police station without a word of explanation.

Over the next four hours we were individually forced to undergo urine tests for drugs, during which a policeman standing guard in the lavatory taunted me by saying, “You cocaine.” Images from popular books and a TV series on the notorious Bangkwang Central Prison penitentiary, the so-called Bangkok Hilton, flashed through my mind.

Next we were taken to a media room with powerful fluorescent lights. Exhausted and disheveled, having not slept the entire night, and with our urine samples lined in front of us, we were photographed in a setting that made us look guilty as sin.

Some time after dawn we were presented with a typed document — in Thai — and told to sign it. At this, I drew a line and demanded to speak with the Australian embassy. Only then did our tormentors back down, casually informing us we’d all passed our drug tests and would be released — if only we signed on the dotted line. I did so, but I also scribbled, “This is not my signature” on the document before walking back onto the steamy streets of Bangkok at 8 a.m. on Christmas Day, traumatized but elated to be free.

During my detention, I identified myself as a journalist many times and asked for an explanation. None was given to me. After my release, I wrote to the official email address of the Thai police, but it bounced back. I copied half a dozen other government agencies, including the Australian embassy in Bangkok, which is supposed to have a police-liaison unit, but the only reply I got was from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, which said the following:

“The Royal Thai Government and the Royal Thai Police have no such policy to detain, harass, abduct, threaten and drug test Western tourists in Thailand. On the contrary, the Royal Thai Government recognizes the huge importance of tourism and safety for all foreign tourists is an on-going priority for the country.”

One would think that would be the case. Tourism receipts and indirect tourism activity account for 15% of Thailand’s GDP — making it the largest sector in the economy. So why would police be allowed to make omelets from Thailand’s golden eggs?

The most popular theory is that low-ranking street cops, some of whom earn as little as $1 an hour, are seeking out new sources of income, because the military-led government has begun cracking down on the street vendors who were the former targets of police shakedowns. Foreigners make convenient prey because they can be intimidated and, compared with the local population, are relatively wealthy.

“This explanation says the takeover has placed the police, traditionally at odds with the military, in some sort of frenzy amidst proposed restructuring that is likely to deeply disrupt the way the police have operated — both formally and informally,” says Thai political analyst Saksith Saiyasombut.

But Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai political scholar based in Japan who has had his passport revoked for criticizing the military-led government, thinks the practice has, paradoxically, a social-order element to it. Demanding random drug tests from some tourists, or asking for cash for a dropped cigarette butt, the thinking goes, shows other tourists that Thailand’s new rulers want to shed some of the seedier aspects of the country’s image abroad.

“The coup makers came with a mission. And that mission is to rebuild an orderly and clean society,” Pavin says. “They believe that by appearing to be serious about cleaning up society and creating an orderly atmosphere, it will attract more tourists. They even bizarrely announced a new campaign, Tourism and Martial Law, to promote the idea that society under martial law is pleasant.”

He adds: “It will not work, because they don’t understand either the logic of tourists or indeed the economy of tourism.”

Bangkok may have had 16.42 million visitors last year. But that number is down nearly 2 million compared with the previous year, with the drop attributed to the declining ruble and corresponding fall in the number of Russian tourists. Increased fear of flying in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines tragedies has been proffered as another reason, as has general uncertainty about the coup. If action isn’t taken to rein in the Thai police, tourist numbers may fall further still.

Read next: Thai Prisoners May Soon Be Catching the Fish on Your Dinner Plate

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TIME Philippines

Pope Calls Out Philippines on Corruption and ‘Scandalous’ Inequality

Pope Francis Visits Philippines - Day 2
Lisa Maree Williams—Getty Images Pope Francis waves to thousands of followers as he arrives at the Manila Cathedral on Jan. 16, 2015, in Manila

His remarks come on the first day of a highly anticipated four-day visit

Pope Francis has called on the Philippine government to fulfill its pledges to crack down on the country’s rampant corruption.

Addressing assembled dignitaries, including President Benigno Aquino, at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila on Friday, the Pontiff called on “everyone, at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor.”

He added that “it is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good” and asked Filipinos “to hear the voice of the poor.” Injustice and oppression, he said, had given rise to “glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities.”

The Pope’s remarks will have resonance for Aquino. When he campaigned for President in 2010, he vowed to fight poverty and tackle corruption and said that for too long the Philippines’ ruling elite had grown rich at the expense of the poor. The campaign message hit home in a country where about 1 in 4 lives in poverty. But while steps in the right direction have been made, official impunity and social inequality persist.

Filipinos, meanwhile, are sure to be pleased by the Pontiff’s comments. The country’s vibrant civil society has fought hard for decades to improve governance and give ordinary people a better shot. Their efforts have been stymied, though, by political infighting, special interests, and sclerotic courts that often operate at the behest of the wealthy and well-connected.

Pope Francis is on the first day of a highly anticipated four-day visit to Asia’s most Catholic nation. During his stay, he will tour areas hit hard by Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) in 2013, and deliver Mass to what’s expected to be a millions-strong crowd in the capital.

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