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Energy reform: Ex-directors of Mexico’s CFE energy company prepare legal defense in WhiteWater Midstream corruption probe | International

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Former CFE executive Guillermo Turrent, who is under investigation in Mexico.
Former CFE executive Guillermo Turrent, who is under investigation in Mexico.Tercero Díaz (Cuartoscuro)

Guillermo Turrent and Javier Gutiérrez, former executives at Mexico’s state-owned electric company, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), are appearing this month in hearings before the Mexican Attorney General’s Office where a judge will decide if they should face criminal charges in possible corruption cases regarding natural gas contracts, including ones awarded to the US company WhiteWater Midstream. For their legal defense, Turrent and Gutiérrez hired criminal lawyer José Luis Nassar, known in Mexico for his representation of controversial public figures.

As reported by EL PAÍS last month, the CFE opened a case in a US federal court to obtain more information about the relationships between Turrent, Gutiérrez and Matthew Calhoun, a founder of WhiteWater Midstream, which became Mexico’s largest natural gas imports supplier during the administration of former President Enrique Peña Nieto. The US case, independent of the Mexico legal process, includes a document of nearly 1,100 pages that details the efforts of the former government officials to award multiple contracts to the Austin-based company, founded by Calhoun, which had no previous experience in the energy industry. One of the contracts in question, for example, was awarded to a WhiteWater subsidiary created just three days prior.

Nassar, the legal representative of Turrent and Gutiérrez, is a well-known criminal attorney who defended Raúl Salinas de Gortari, brother of former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who was accused of murder in 1995. He has also represented Mexican soccer player Rafael Márquez, accused of supposed ties to organized crime, and the former governor of the Nayarit state, Roberto Sandoval, who was arrested last year for conducting operations with illicit financial resources. Nassar’s law firm has also represented Luis Cárdenas Palomino, a former director of the Federal Police, arrested for his alleged role in torture.

This month, hearings are taking place before the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor of the Attorney General’s Office to determine if Turrent and Gutiérrez will face criminal charges for their role in awarding several natural gas contracts during their time as officials at CFE. Turrent was the CEO of the private arm of CFE in the US, known as CFE International, where Gutiérrez served as the chief operating officer. The contracts in question were awarded following the Mexican energy reform of the Peña Nieto administration, which opened the sector to foreign and private investment.

CFE alleges that Turrent and Gutiérrez violated the Mexican Constitution, as well as criminal and procurement laws, in awarding contracts valued at hundreds of millions of dollars to WhiteWater Midstream and its subsidiaries and affiliates without conducting a proper bidding process and with conflicts of interests given their preexisting relationship with Calhoun. The federal case in Texas includes testimony from Fernando Aponte, a lawyer, and current Chief Litigation Affairs Officer at CFE International, as well as a US private investigator, in representation of CFE. Gutiérrez signed certain CFE contracts “while asserting the wrong power of attorney and without proper public notarization, which constitute significant legal deficiencies under Mexican law,” Aponte said in his testimony submitted to the US court.

“I further discovered that, in connection with the procurement of the Waha Connector agreements, there was no evidence of any procurement process that would have guaranteed the best terms for the Mexican state had taken place,” Aponte said, according to the testimony. Waha Connector is the name of a pipeline operated by WhiteWater.

“Additional review of communications and the background of the contracts revealed that WhiteWater Midstream, the company which was awarded the Waha Connector agreements, lacked the requisite experience and credit history for such contracts to be awarded properly and that the provisions of the contracts were not competitive and materially hurt CFE,” Aponte said in his testimony. “At the time these contracts were awarded, WhiteWater had been in operation for only a few months and WhiteWater Midstream affiliates, also awarded the contracts, had been in operation for three days.”

Aponte added that “Gutierrez and Turrent committed to award WhiteWater Midstream these contracts prior to soliciting or receiving bids from other entities. As such, the Waha Connector agreements were awarded to WhiteWater Midstream in the absence of the analysis required by law to ensure the state receives the best market conditions available.”

The US court case documents also mention former CFE executive Emilio Cosio, who according to testimony submitted and CFE findings, was involved in the negotiations between CFE and WhiteWater. Cosio, Turrent and Gutiérrez appear as managing members of an Austin-based company called 3V Energy, founded in November 2019, according to the website OpenCorporates.com. According to a source familiar with the company, 3V, prior to closing last August, sought to sign contracts with the CFE. WhiteWater is also based in Austin.

In the US, the CFE began investigating dealings with WhiteWater following publication of an EL PAÍS story in July 2021 that revealed Turrent, Calhoun and another executive of WhiteWater had known each other for more than 20 years, dating back to their time working together at Royal Dutch Shell. The three appear in documents that are part of a case of possible manipulation of electricity prices in California, which remains open at the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). EL PAÍS revealed that WhiteWater employees worked together in the CFE offices in Mexico as “consultants” months prior to awarding the Texas company with a massive natural gas supply contract, according to three internal sources at the state electricity company.

CFE and WhiteWater are currently involved in an international arbitration process after the state electricity company refused to pay the Texas company for gas purchased in February 2021, when temperatures fell to record lows in the southern US. The low temperatures froze natural gas production and distribution installations and prices for the fuel skyrocketed.

Bilateral relationship

In July 2021, the Mexican government said that US authorities were also investigating WhiteWater for “awarding contracts under suspicion of corruption, abuse of trust and traffic of influences.” The open federal case in Texas pressures authorities in the US to investigate the possible corruption in the bilateral contracts signed between the CFE and WhiteWater. In response to a request for comment from EL PAÍS, the US Embassy in Mexico said that the government doesn’t comment on open cases.

The US is Mexico’s most important bilateral relationship and is currently in a state of turbulence and tension, largely due to the position of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador regarding energy policy and diplomacy, said Adrián Duhalt, a non-resident scholar at the Baker Institute for the United States and Mexico Center at Rice University. López Obrador has canceled permits and reversed the energy reform initiatives of his predecessor, generating uncertainty for millions of dollars in investment for North American companies.

“Mexico, despite the rhetoric about energy self-sufficiency, will continue to depend on natural gas imports from the US that will only increase in the final years of the López Obrador administration,” Duhalt said. “A card that President López Obrador could play is to point to corruption. If it’s determined that WhiteWater Midstream or the former CFE officials took part in influence trafficking or acts of corruption, he will no doubt use the case to feed his narrative against previous governments and the energy reform of 2013.”

He added: “With state elections in 2022 and 2023, as well as the presidential elections in 2024, the WhiteWater Midstream affair and the proceedings against former CFE officials are ammunition for the narrative of the governing coalitions.”

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Eduardo Zapateiro: Colombian army chief resigns to avoid appearing beside president-elect Petro at inauguration | International

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General Eduardo Zapateiro, the commander of the Colombian army, resigned on Tuesday to avoid appearing beside president-elect Gustavo Petro at his inauguration on August 7. “After 40 years in service, I bid farewell to the Colombian people, giving my heartfelt thanks to all my soldiers,” he announced.

Zapateiro, who comes from the hardline wing of the armed forces, has been a vocal opponent of the leftist leader. During the presidential election campaign, the army commander controversially spoke out against Petro on Twitter – a move that was condemned as unconstitutional. Incumbent President Iván Duque, however, defended Zapateiro, arguing that the general was sharing his point of view – not taking a political stand.

Zapateiro announced his retirement just one day after Petro told EL PAÍS that he planned to change the leadership of the armed forces. “This leadership was deeply imbued by the political line of the executive [of Iván Duque] now reaching the end of its term. But this path is unsustainable and turns our security forces into a victim, as they have been led to perpetrate grotesque violations of human rights. What we are proposing will make our security forces democratically stronger,” he said in the interview.

The Colombian general has often raised eyebrows with his behavior. Following the death of Jhon “Popeye” Jairo Velásquez, a henchman for drug lord Pablo Escobar who had killed dozens of people, Zapateiro sent his condolences to his family and said he was saddened by his loss. To this day, no one has explained why the general made these statements.

In Colombia, the government and the military have a complex relationship. The country has fought for decades against guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The ongoing armed struggle placed the military in a position of great power. Indeed until the 1990s, the armed forces controlled the Defense Ministry. As in many other countries, the Colombian armed forces are a conservative group that is highly suspicious of leftist ideas. The peace agreement, for example, that ended five decades of conflict with the FARC, divided Colombia’s troops. Zapateiro initially supported the accords, but over time, became an outspoken critic.

What kind of relationship Petro will form with the military remains to be seen. As a politician, he has been very critical of the army’s focus on targeting internal enemies. The Colombian armed forces have been fighting against guerrilla groups and drug gangs for decades. During this conflict, they have often overstepped their bounds and violated human rights.

In the early 2000s, a scandal broke in Colombia when it was revealed that military officers were carrying out summary executions of innocent civilians and listing them as guerrillas killed in combat. These so-called “false positives” took place in different regions of the country between 2002 and 2008 and were used as proof of performance by military units and to collect “kill fees” awarded by the government of former president Álvaro Uribe. A total of 6,402 innocent people are estimated to have been killed in these summary executions. Just a few months ago, several civilians also died in suspicious circumstances during an army operation in Putumayo.

With Petro elected as Colombia’s first leftist president in modern history, it was no longer tenable to have Zapeteiro leading the armed forces. The Colombian newspaper El Espectador published an editorial to that effect, with the headline: “Isn’t it time to retire, General Zapateiro?”

Petro aims to tackle corruption within the army, which he believes is home to extremist factions. “There are currents in the far right that must be eliminated. Some are talking openly about coups and things like that. But look, within the army there are no factions friendly to Petro, there are factions friendly to the Constitution,” Petro told EL PAÍS.

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Canada should focus on abortion access not legislation, advocates say | Global development

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Abortion advocates are warning that the recent US supreme court ruling overturning Roe v Wade will empower anti-choice groups in Canada to push for restricted access, making a settled matter appear controversial in a country where nearly 80% of people are pro-choice.

A key anti-choice strategy in Canada revolves around enacting abortion legislation – an idea that has been gaining traction amid the fallout of the US court ruling. There is currently no abortion law in Canada, making it the only country in the world where the procedure is totally free of legal restrictions.

“There’s a lot of talk right now about whether or not the Canadian government should pass a proactive law protecting our right to abortion – a pre-emptive strike, if you will. That would be a big mistake,” said Daphne Gilbert, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

Gilbert and other abortion advocates say that while enshrining abortion rights may sound progressive, the opposite is true: consolidating rules would make it easier for anti-choice legislators to retract abortion rights if ever they found themselves in a majority. Last year, 81 Conservative MPs (and one independent) voted for anti-choice legislation.

And while the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, promised Canadians after Roe that his government would “always stand up for your right to choose”, advocates argue that may not always be true.

That’s why the country should focus on entrenching people’s rights by expanding abortion access, said Gilbert.

Since it became legal in a 1988 supreme court ruling, abortion in Canada has been designated as a medical service like any other, on par with procedures like X-rays and blood tests. But that doesn’t make it easy to get – especially in remote, religious or conservative parts of the country.

In 2014, Sarah (who asked to remain anonymous) sought an abortion on Prince Edward Island (PEI) – a province of 30,000 that, at the time, did not have a single publicly operating abortion provider.

It took Sarah a month to finally secure a provider – five hours away, in another province. The trip incurred travel and lodging costs, but the procedure itself was covered by the healthcare authority.

“The idea that anybody has to travel to take care of something that you should be able to get done close to home – it’s not fine,” said Sarah. Abortion care only arrived on PEI in 2017, after activists sued the provincial government for acting unconstitutionally.

Although there is no federal law, each province’s medical college sets its own guidelines on abortion, including gestational age limits for use of the abortion pill.

Those guidelines are shaped by the skills and training available in each province, said Martha Paynter, an abortion care provider in Nova Scotia and the author of the new book Abortion to Abolition: Reproductive Health and Justice in Canada.

But there is also a political dimension to providing abortion care that prevents some doctors and nurse practitioners from taking it up.

“More people could be doing it than are doing it,” said Paynter. “We as educators – I’m a prof at a nursing school – have the responsibility to teach in every medical and nursing program how to do this care, and hardly [any school] does it.”

Paynter is the creator of the country’s first university abortion course, at Dalhousie University, which is open to students across medical, nursing and other health programs with the purpose of inspiring future health workers to integrate abortion access into primary care.

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists offers an online course to teach professionals how to prescribe and manage medical abortion.

But most students and healthcare professionals are not required to learn about how medication and surgical abortion work – and many choose to abstain because they are afraid to enter the political fray around abortion.

According to Gilbert, that means a lot of primary care providers stay wilfully uninformed.

“A lot of doctors just aren’t political people. They’re scientists, and they don’t see the politics behind some of their care,” she said.

Further complicating access is the fact that many Canadians are unaware that nurse practitioners in the country are permitted to prescribe the abortion pill and refer patients to surgical abortion providers – or that most patients can self-refer directly to an abortion provider.

Addressing these issues is critical to expanding existing access to medication and surgical abortion, said Paynter and Gilbert.

In 2017, Natalie (also a pseudonym) discovered she was pregnant while visiting her parents in a small town in northern Alberta. After one doctor at a local walk-in clinic told her abortion was murder, she demanded an appointment with a different doctor.

That doctor told her that there was no such thing as medical abortion. “He looked me in the face and said, ‘That doesn’t exist,’” she said.

Mifegymiso – otherwise known as the abortion pill – was approved by Health Canada in 2015, but had only recently hit the market when Natalie found herself at the doctor’s office.

“I know it exists. It’s literally the front page of the news,” she told him.

Still, she went away empty-handed. She was only able to get an abortion after returning to her home province of New Brunswick, where only three hospitals and one clinic provide abortion. Natalie went to the clinic, where she paid $800 for a surgical abortion – a cost incurred because the province refuses to pay for abortions performed outside of hospitals.

New Brunswick is currently being sued for its restriction of abortion.

Stories like those of Sarah and Natalie show how abortion remains inaccessible in Canada, despite its federal legal standing.

“Our greatest problems really come in terms of provinces and what they may do to restrict access to abortion in light of what I think is now going to be a really emboldened anti-choice movement,” said Gilbert.

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Missing child in Germany: German boy found alive after surviving eight days in sewer | International

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German police have found an eight-year-old boy who went missing from his home in Oldenburg, a city of 170,000 people in northwestern Germany. The child, named Joe, was discovered on Saturday in a sewer just 300 meters from his house. He had survived in the sewer for eight days while hundreds of officers and volunteers frantically searched the surface for clues to his whereabouts. “Eight-year-old Joe lives!” police in Oldenburg announced on Twitter.

The boy, who suffers from learning disabilities, disappeared on June 17 from the garden of his house. Police launched a large-scale search with drones, helicopters, sniffer dogs and dozens of officers, who were joined by hundreds of volunteers. As the days passed, a homicide team joined the investigation amid growing fears that Joe – who is only identified by his first name due to Germany’s privacy laws – could have been the victim of a violent crime. A witness claimed to have seen him in the company of an unidentified man and it was feared he may have been kidnapped.

“It was absolute luck,” said Stephan Klatte, the Oldenburg police spokesman, said of Joe’s discovery. A neighbor who was walking in the area raised the alarm when he heard “a whining noise” coming from the ground, just under a drain. When officers lifted the manhole cover, they found the boy, completely naked. He had no serious external injuries, but was dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia, for which he was taken to hospital for treatment. According to German media, he is recovering well. “If he hadn’t made a sound, or if no one had heard him, we might never have found him,” Klatte said.

In a statement, the police reported that they believed that Joe likely entered the rainwater drainage system through a sewer on the same day of his disappearance and “lost his bearings after walking several meters.” Police have ruled out any foul play in the incident.

On Sunday, the day after Joe was discovered, police commissioned a specialized company to inspect the sewage system with a robot equipped with a camera. The robot examined the sewer between the boy’s home and the place where he was found. It recorded several items of clothing, including what he was wearing when he disappeared, in a pipe about 60 centimeters in diameter that runs under one of the streets of the neighborhood where he lives with his parents. The robot found, for example, the child’s vest, 70 meters from the point of entry.

Officers found an entrance to a three-foot-wide drainage channel near the farm where he was last seen on the day of his disappearance. Authorities believe the boy entered the channel while playing. After 23 meters, the tunnel leads to another narrower plastic pipe and police think it is likely the eight-year-old continued down this path. Joe was eventually found about 290 meters from where he entered the sewer system.

Police believe that Joe became more and more disoriented until he could no longer find a way out. “A first statement from the child confirms this assumption,” said the statement, which does not provide more details about what he told officers. Investigators say they have not been able to question the boy in detail, as he remains in hospital. Nothing has been found to suggest that the child came to the surface in the eight days in which he was missing. In the statement, police asked that no questions about his state of health be made out of respect for him and his family.



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