The coronavirus pandemic and a huge explosion in the port of Beirut last August further devastated the economy.
Estimates put the central bank’s losses at $50 billion to $60 billion. The International Monetary Fund has offered assistance, but Lebanese officials accuse Mr. Salameh of blocking an audit sought by the United States and other countries that would unlock I.M.F. aid, as well as a separate investigation into alleged fraud at the central bank.
Most Lebanese have said goodbye to whatever savings they had while the currency has crashed, reducing salaries once worth $1,000 a month to about $80. The central bank is burning through its reserves, spending about $500 million per month to subsidize imports of fuel, medicine and grain.
“Lebanon has been living on borrowed time, and now the chickens have come home to roost,” said Toufic Gaspard, a Lebanese economist and former adviser at the I.M.F. “The whole banking system has collapsed, and we have become a cash economy.”
The crash has soured many Lebanese on their once celebrated central banker.
“I can’t say anything good about Riad Salameh,” said Toufic Khoueiri, a co-owner of a popular kebab restaurant, while having lunch with a friend in Beirut. “Our money is not stuck in the banks, but simply stolen.”
His friend, Roger Tanios, a lawyer, said he had once admired Mr. Salameh for keeping Lebanon financially stable but had changed his mind.
Mr. Salameh, he said, had gone spectacularly off course.
“Every country has its mafia,” Mr. Tanios said. “In Lebanon, the mafia has its country.”
Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Liz Alderman from Paris. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Asmaa al-Omar from Istanbul.
Mr. Célestin said he also had a radio station called Model FM, which he started in a rural region but which grew to the point that he installed it in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the capital. The station does have a small, discreet office in the suburb of Petionville, with no signs. On the two occasions when The Times visited, the office was closed, or a single person was there who could provide no information about the station — not even an advertising rate sheet.
Mr. Célestin said he also owned a gas company called PetroGaz-Haiti, but by his own description, it appeared to violate legal prohibitions against profiting from state funds. While politicians are permitted to own businesses, the Constitution forbids them from having contracts with the state, which Mr. Célestin said he had had for four years through the company.
With outrage brewing, the Haitian government’s Anti-Corruption Unit launched an investigation into the purchase of the Célestin home in Canada in February. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the national police force, said it could not disclose whether it was also investigating the transaction. But under Canadian regulations, the purchase should have raised a red flag, said Garry Clement, the former head of an R.C.M.P. unit that investigates money laundering.
As a senator, Mr. Célestin is considered a “politically exposed person” under Canadian money-laundering regulations, which means financial institutions are required to perform due diligence to determine the source of any transferred funds greater than $100,000. These rules would also apply to Mrs. Célestin as the wife of a “P.E.P.,” Mr. Clement explained.
Mr. Célestin said everything about the purchase was above board. “If I wasn’t clean, I would have had a lot of trouble with the banks in Miami,” he added, saying that he routinely transferred between $20 million and $30 million to Turkey to buy iron for what he described as one of his import businesses. “I would be scared if my money wasn’t clean.”
But Mr. Célestin and his lawyer in Montreal, Alexandre Bergevin, declined to answer follow-up questions or provide the names of his import company or his farm. His wife, a counselor at the Haitian consulate in Montreal since 2019, did not respond to a request for comment.
SAN ANTONIO HUISTA, Guatemala — An American contractor went to a small town in the Guatemalan mountains with an ambitious goal: to ignite the local economy, and hopefully even persuade people not to migrate north to the United States.
Half an hour into his meeting with coffee growers, the contractor excitedly revealed the tool he had brought to change their lives: a pamphlet inviting the farmers to download an app to check coffee prices and “be a part of modern agriculture.”
Pedro Aguilar, a coffee farmer who hadn’t asked for the training and didn’t see how it would keep anyone from heading for the border, looked confused. Eyeing the U.S. government logo on the pamphlet, he began waving it around, asking if anyone had a phone number to call the Americans “and tell them what our needs really are.”
soared in 2019 and is on the upswing once more.
have risen, malnutrition has become a national crisis, corruption is unbridled and the country is sending more unaccompanied children to the United States than anywhere else in the world.
That is the stark reality facing Ms. Harris as she assumes responsibility for expanding the same kind of aid programs that have struggled to stem migration in the past. It is a challenge that initially frustrated her top political aides, some of whom viewed the assignment from Mr. Biden as one that would inevitably set her up for failure in the first months of her tenure.
Her allies worried that she would be expected to solve the entire immigration crisis, irked that the early reports of her new duties appeared to hold her responsible for juggling the recent surge of children crossing the border without adults.
linked to drug traffickers and accused of embezzling American aid money, the leader of El Salvador has been denounced for trampling democratic norms and the government of Guatemala has been criticized for persecuting officials fighting corruption.
Even so, Ms. Harris and her advisers have warmed to the task, according to several people familiar with her thinking in the White House. They say it will give her a chance to dive squarely into foreign policy and prove that she can pass the commander-in-chief test, negotiating with world leaders on a global stage to confront one of America’s most intractable issues.
critics denounced as unlawful and inhumane. Moreover, members of the current administration contend that Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze a portion of the aid to the region in 2019 ended up blunting the impact of the work being done to improve conditions there.
But experts say the reasons that years of aid have not curbed migration run far deeper than that. In particular, they note that much of the money is handed over to American companies, which swallow a lot of it for salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.
Record numbers of Central American children and families were crossing, fleeing gang violence and widespread hunger.
independent studies have found.
“All activities funded with U.S.A.I.D.’s foreign assistance benefit countries and people overseas, even if managed through agreements with U.S.-based organizations,” said Mileydi Guilarte, a deputy assistant administrator at U.S.A.I.D. working on Latin America funding.
But the government’s own assessments don’t always agree. After evaluating five years of aid spending in Central America, the Government Accountability Office rendered a blunt assessment in 2019: “Limited information is available about how U.S. assistance improved prosperity, governance, and security.”
One U.S.A.I.D. evaluation of programs intended to help Guatemalan farmers found that from 2006 to 2011, incomes rose less in the places that benefited from U.S. aid than in similar areas where there was no intervention.
Mexico has pushed for a more radical approach, urging the United States to give cash directly to Central Americans affected by two brutal hurricanes last year. But there’s also a clear possibility — that some may simply use the money to pay a smuggler for the trip across the border.
The farmers of San Antonio Huista say they know quite well what will keep their children from migrating. Right now, the vast majority of people here make their money by selling green, unprocessed coffee beans to a few giant Guatemalan companies. This is a fine way to put food on the table — assuming the weather cooperates — but it doesn’t offer much more than subsistence living.
Farmers here have long dreamed of escaping that cycle by roasting their own coffee and selling brown beans in bags to American businesses and consumers, which brings in more money.
“Instead of sending my brother, my father, my son to the United States, why not send my coffee there, and get paid in dollars?” said Esteban Lara, the leader of a local coffee cooperative.
But when they begged a U.S. government program for funding to help develop such a business, Ms. Monzón said, they were told “the money is not designed to be invested in projects like that.”
These days, groups of her neighbors are leaving for the United States every month or two. So many workers have abandoned this town that farmers are scrambling to find laborers to harvest their coffee.
One of Ms. Monzón’s oldest employees, Javier López Pérez, left with his 14-year-old son in 2019, during the last big wave of Central American migration to the United States. Mr. López said he was scaling the border wall with his son when he fell and broke his ankle.
“My son screamed, ‘Papi, no!’ and I said to him, ‘Keep going, my son,’” Mr. López said. He said his son made it to the United States, while he returned to San Antonio Huista alone.
His family was then kicked out of their home, which Mr. López had given as collateral to the person who smuggled him to the border. The house they moved into was destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Guatemala late last year.
Ms. Monzón put Mr. López in one of her relatives’ houses, then got the community to cobble together money to pay for enough cinder blocks to build the family a place to live.
While mixing cement to bind the blocks together, one of Mr. López’s sons, Vidal, 19, confessed that he had been talking to a smuggler about making the same journey that felled his father, who was realistic at the prospect.
“I told him, ‘Son, we suffered hunger and thirst along the way, and then look at what happened to me, look at what I lost,’” Mr. López said, touching his still-mangled ankle. “But I can’t tell him what to do with his life — he’s a man now.”
CARACAS, Venezuela — From within his presidential palace, President Nicolás Maduro regularly commandeers the airwaves, delivering speeches intended to project stability to his crumbling nation.
But as the Venezuelan state disintegrates under the weight of Mr. Maduro’s corrupt leadership and American sanctions, his government is losing control of segments of the country, even within his stronghold: the capital, Caracas.
Nowhere is his weakening grip on territory more evident than in Cota 905, a shantytown that clings to a steep mountainside overlooking the gilded halls from which Mr. Maduro addresses the nation.
policing, road maintenance, health care and public utilities, to pour dwindling resources into Caracas, home of the political, business and military elites who form his support base.
Hunkered down in his fortified Caracas residences, Mr. Maduro crushed the opposition, purged the security forces of dissent and enriched his cronies in an effort to eliminate challenges to his authoritarian rule.
In remote areas, swathes of national territory fell to criminals and insurgents. But gang control of Cota 905 and the surrounding shantytowns, which lie just two miles from the presidential palace, is evidence that his government is losing its grip even on the center of the capital.
Across the city, other armed groups have also asserted territorial control over working-class neighborhoods.
“Maduro is often seen as a traditional strongman controlling every aspect of Venezuelans’ lives,” said Rebecca Hanson, a sociologist at the University of Florida who studies violence in Venezuela. “In reality, the state has become very fragmented, very chaotic and in many areas very weak.”
As the government’s reach in Caracas’s shantytowns withered, organized crime grew, forcing Mr. Maduro’s officials to negotiate with the largest gangs to limit violence and maintain political control, according to interviews with a dozen residents, as well as police officers, officials and academics studying violence.
In the process, the most organized gangs began supplanting the state in their communities, taking over policing, social services and even the enforcement of pandemic measures.
Police officers say the gang that controls Cota 905 now has around 400 men armed with the proceeds from drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion, and that it exerts complete control over at least eight square miles in the heart of the capital.
Gang members with automatic weapons openly patrol the shantytown’s streets and those of the surrounding communities, and guard entry points from rooftop watchtowers. The first checkpoint appears just a few minutes’ drive from the headquarters of Mr. Maduro’s secret police.
As the Venezuelan economy went into a tailspin, the Cota gang began offering financial support to the community, supplanting Mr. Maduro’s bankrupt social programs, which once offered free food, housing and school supplies for the poor.
After monopolizing the local drug trade, the Cota 905 gang imposed strict rules on the residents in return for stopping the once endemic violence and petty crime. And many residents welcome its hard line on crime.
“Before, the thugs robbed,” said Mr. Ojeda, a Cota 905 resident who, like others in the community, asked that his full name not be published for fear of crossing the gangsters. “Now, they are the ones who come to you, without fail, with anything that goes missing.”
During his tenure, Mr. Maduro has veered from brutal suppression of organized crime groups to accommodation in an attempt to check rising crime.
In 2013, he withdrew security forces from about a dozen troubled spots, including Cota 905, naming them “Peace Zones,” as he tried to placate the gangs. Two years later, when the policy failed to check crime, he unleashed a wave of brutal police assaults on the shantytowns.
The police operations resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings, according to the United Nations, earning Mr. Maduro charges of committing crimes against humanity and the hatred of many shantytown residents. Faced with the onslaught, the gangs closed ranks, creating ever larger and more complex organizations, according to Ms. Hanson and her colleague, the researcher Verónica Zubillaga.
Unable to defeat the Cota gang, Mr. Maduro’s government returned to negotiations with its leaders, according to a police commander and two government officials who held talks with the gang and worked to put the agreements in place.
Security forces are once again banned from entering the community, according to the police commander, who is not authorized to discuss state policy and did so on condition of anonymity.
Under the deal with the government, the Cota gang has reduced kidnappings and murders, and began carrying out some state policies. During the pandemic, gang members strictly enforced lockdown rules and mask wearing, local residents said. And the gang is working with the government to distribute the scant remaining food and school supplies to the residents, residents and the two officials said.
“The gang is focused on the community,” said Antonio Garcia, a shantytown resident. “They make sure we get our bag of food.”
Mr. Ojeda said he received $300 from the gang the last Carnival season to buy toys and sweets for his family, a fortune in a country where the minimum monthly wage has collapsed to about $2. Residents said young people in the community are offered jobs as lookouts or safe house guards for between $50 and $100 a week, more than most doctors and engineers make in Venezuela.
Taking these jobs is easier than leaving them. Soon after the oldest son of Ms. Ramírez — who did not want to give her full name out of fear of the gang — began serving as a lookout in Cota 905, he discovered that his life now belonged to the gang.
“He had new clothes, new shoes, but he couldn’t stop crying,” Ms. Ramírez said. “He wanted to go back and couldn’t.”
Anti-government protests are banned in the shantytown, and gang members summon residents to the polling stations on elections, said the residents.
The members “tell us that if the government is toppled, we would be affected too, because the police would return,” said Ana Castro, a Cota resident. “The ‘Peace Zone’ would end, and we would all suffer.”
In private, some government officials defend the nonaggression pacts with the biggest gangs, saying the policy has drastically reduced violence.
Violent deaths in Caracas shantytowns have halved since the mid-2010s, when the Venezuelan capital was one of the world’s deadliest cities, according to figures from a local nonprofit, Mi Convive.
But academics and analysts studying crime in the city say the drop in homicides points to the growing power of Caracas’s gangs against an increasingly weak government. The imbalance, experts said, puts the government and the population in an increasingly dangerous and vulnerable position.
The power shift was evident in April, when the Cota gang shot up a police patrol car and took over a section of highway running through Caracas. The area was a five-minute drive from the presidential palace, and the blockade paralyzed the capital for several hours.
But the government stayed silent through it all. The security forces never came to retake the highway. Once the gang left, officers quietly cleared out the blasted patrol car.
BAGHDAD — ‘Who killed me?’ the signs asked, alongside images of dead men and women, among the roughly 80 Iraqi activists murdered since late 2019. Young demonstrators held aloft the posters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday, illustrating both the enduring spark and diminished strength of Iraq’s anti-government protest movement.
The demonstrators (publicly) and Iraqi officials (privately) say they know who killed many of the activists: Iran-backed militias that have essentially crushed a grass-roots anti-corruption movement that blames Iranian influence, and the militias, for many of Iraq’s ills. In a country where militias — nominally a part of the security apparatus — operate with impunity, the killers have gone unpunished.
The several thousand young men gathered in Baghdad’s central square Tuesday comprised the biggest protest in the Iraqi capital since the anniversary last October of demonstrations in 2019 that swept Baghdad and southern citiesand brought down a government. The movement is driven by anger at the government’s failure to make promised reforms, including curbs on Iranian-backed militias.
But in the shadow of assassinations, kidnappings and intimidation of people who criticize the Iraqi government and Iranian interference, turnout on Tuesday was far smaller than organizers had hoped.
Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies are clustered. A few of the protesters responded by throwing rocks as police chased demonstrators down alleys. Security forces said the demonstrators later set fire to security vehicles.
“We expected more people to come but some people are afraid — afraid for their jobs and afraid for themselves,” said one of the longtime activists, Dr. Mohammad Fadhil, a physician from Diyala province, speaking before the clashes erupted.
Another protester, Hani Mohammad, said he had been threatened by a group of fighters three days before.
“They came to my house,” said Mr. Mohammad, naming one of the biggest Iran-backed militias, which he did not want to name publicly for fear of retaliation. He said he had already fled.
A year after taking power, prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has largely failed to deliver reforms he promised in response to the 2019 protests, including reining in Iran-backed militias, which are also blamed for attacks on the U.S. embassy and military installations.
Activists who have been killed include protest leaders in the holy city of Karbala, a female doctor in Basra, and a prominent Baghdad security analyst, Hisham al Hashimi, who advised the prime minister. Many of them were shot dead in the streets in view of security cameras or the police, some in the middle of the day.
Though at least one commander has been relieved of duty, no one is known to have been prosecuted.
“What’s the main purpose of these killings? It’s to deter the formation of leadership among the protest movement,” said Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. “So you target key leaders that have the potential of rallying the masses, you eliminate them and then you create fear within the rest.”
She said there was little prospect that Iraqi political leaders would reform the system that elevated them to power, or push back against the pervasive influence of Iran, and that intimidation and lack of support had left the protest movement too weak to create change.
“You need leadership, you need organization, you need political machinery, you need funding for that,” said Ms. Slim, listing elements that the diverse movement lacks.
Ali al Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, said, “The security establishment is not serious in its efforts, beginning from the investigations within security institutions to bringing the case to the court.”
The United Nations envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, told the U.N. Security Council this month that many of the protest leaders were being hunted down with ‘rampant impunity’ ahead of the early elections they had demanded.
In addition to those assassinated, more than 560 protesters, the vast majority of them unarmed, have been killed by security forces and gunmen during the protests themselves since 2019. Most were shot with live bullets or killed by tear gas canisters that became lethal projectiles after being fired directly into the crowd.
Ahead of Tuesday’s protest, one of the main Iran-backed militias, the Hezbollah Brigades, issued what many perceived as a veiled threat to the demonstrators, saying that it and other paramilitary forces “must protect these young men who are deceived,” so they cannot be used by enemies, including the United States. It accused the protesters of aiming to delay the elections planned for Oct. 10.
The assassinations have had a chilling effect on the political campaign. The grass-roots movement that began in 2019 aimed to end the corruption-ridden system of government in place since 2003, where government ministries have been carved up between powerful political blocs and militias.
Activists originally saw the upcoming elections as a chance for a fresh start with new faces, but now they appear likely to return the same factions to power.
“There are no parties with integrity that I can vote for,” said Hadeel, a 19-year-old university student protesting Tuesday in Baghdad’s Nasour square. She did not want to give her last name.
“After the election we will not be able to even protest because the government is going to be stronger than before and the militias will have even more power.”
Despite the danger, the protests Thursday could be a harbinger of a painful summer in Iraq.
The protests in 2019 spread from the southern coastal city of Basra, where citizens took to the streets to demand public services. Iraq last year recorded life-threatening record high temperatures of over 125 degrees, leaving many to swelter without electricity or even clean water.
This summer, a lack of winter rain, water mismanagement and water conflicts with neighboring Turkey and Iran are expected to result in even worse shortages for millions of Iraqis, misery that could fuel renewed mass protests.
Among the protesters Tuesday, there was little fear of the coronavirus ravaging Iraq, where only about 1 percent of the population has been vaccinated. No one in the demonstrations was seen wearing masks, and social distancing in the crowded squares was impossible.
“We know virus exists,” said one of the protesters, Hamza Khadham. “But the violence, injustice and oppression by the government against the people is more dangerous than the coronavirus.”
Falih Hassan, Awadh al-Taiee and Nermeen al-Mufti contributed reporting.
Devlet Bahceli, leader of the M.H.P., one of the right-wing nationalist groups allied with Mr. Erdogan, denied any links to the mafia in comments on Tuesday.
Mr. Peker is not the only one with allegations of dirt against the government. Mr. Erdogan’s political opponents, sensing his growing vulnerability, have sought to expose allegations of corruption or abuse of power at every turn.
But Mr. Peker, with as many as four million viewers tuning in to his rambling, hourlong videos, is by far the most trenchant and damaging.
Among the unproven accusations he has tossed out are the illegal seizure of a marina by a government insider and the subsequent use of it for drug trafficking; the death of a woman who filed a complaint of sexual assault against a well-placed A.K.P. lawmaker; and even crimes that he said he committed himself at the behest of senior officials, such as instigating the assault of a former A.K.P. lawmaker, threatening university academics who signed a peace petition, and aiding Mr. Soylu, the interior minister, in his rivalry against Mr. Albayrak, Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law.
Many of the allegations were directed against the former interior minister, Mr. Agar, and his son, who have both rejected the claims as baseless. The police have said that the woman who filed the sexual assault case had died in a suicide.
In an interview with the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, Fikri Saglar, a former lawmaker, said, “We can call this the second Susurluk incident.” Mr. Saglar was a member of the parliamentary committee that investigated the 1990s scandal.
“It may be more serious,” he added. “Susurluk was like the foundations of exposing relations between politicians-mafia-the state, now traces of what this establishment has been doing are revealed.”
CÓRDOBA, Spain — Carlos Alburquerque isn’t your typical rehab candidate. He’s a 75-year-old grandfather living in Córdoba, a city in southern Spain. He was a town notary before he retired in 2015. He hasn’t touched drugs or alcohol in years.
But his isn’t your typical rehab program: It’s an 11-month boot camp to reform corrupt Spanish officials and “reinsert” them into mainstream society.
“Repairing the damage is what is left for me in this life,” said Mr. Alburquerque, who is serving a four-year prison sentence for stealing around 400,000 euros, nearly a half a million dollars, in his work drawing up contracts and deeds.
Over the course of 32 sessions in an austere conference room in Córdoba’s penitentiary, Mr. Alburquerque will be monitored by a team of psychiatrists. He will sit in a circle with other convicted officials for group therapy sessions with titles like “personal abilities” and “values.” He is, in some ways, the guinea pig of an experiment meant to answer an age-old question: Buried deep in the soul of a swindler like Mr. Alburquerque, might there be an honest man?
raft of bribes for government contracts were discovered logged in a notebook belonging to the ruling party’s treasurer. The scandal helped topple the party from power in 2018. There was the “Palau Case,” in which the president of a Catalan music hall defrauded it of 23 million euros, using the proceeds for home renovations and lavish vacations, among other extravagances.
In the rocky coastal region of Galicia, police once nabbed a ring of corrupt town officials in a sting called “Operation Pokémon.” Why it was named after a Japanese video game was never clear — but some speculated it was because of the large number of officials involved. (There are hundreds of Pokémon characters.)
On a recent afternoon, Ángel Luis Ortiz, a former judge who now runs Spain’s prisons, let out a long sigh as he looked out from his office into downtown Madrid during a conversation about Spain’s struggles with public embezzlement. The boom-bust cycles of Spain’s economy had led it to a long history of fraudsters and betrayals of public trust, he said.
ranks Spain just below France, and above Italy). It was Spain’s will to rehabilitate the offenders that set it apart from the rest, Mr. Ortiz said — an offer which now extends to some 2,044 white-collar criminals in Spanish prisons.
Nine prisons are running programs so far, which began in March. Prisoners don’t get reduced sentences for joining, but officials say participating is looked on favorably when it comes time to request parole.
Who qualifies? It’s a veritable Who’s Who of Spain.
There’s the king’s brother-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, the handsome Olympic handball player and former Spanish duke who is serving a fraud sentence of almost six years, and is participating in the program. Francisco Correa, a businessman nabbed in the Gürtel Case is also enrolled. (Though Spaniards know him better for his nickname, “Don Vito,” a reference to “The Godfather” trilogy.)
Yet for all the volunteers, Mr. Ortiz still thinks his biggest challenge may be convincing Spain’s corrupt officials that there actually might be something wrong with them.
“They are people with money and power — and we are struggling against this idea that they can get away with anything and don’t actually need the help,” he said.
For that, the government turned to Sergio Ruiz, a prison psychiatrist in the southern city of Seville who helped design the program. Dr. Ruiz said that in addition to getting participants to recognize their flaws in group therapy, inmates would eventually be asked to participate in “restorative justice” sessions where they would ask for forgiveness from their victims.
Dr. Ruiz explained he had been surprised at the outset when he searched the scientific literature and found almost nothing on rehabilitating white collar criminals. Psychiatrists had studied murderers ad nauseam, Dr. Ruiz explained. But few had ever bothered to get inside the mind of the shady functionary who swindled the public garbage fund.
So Dr. Ruiz decided to run a study of his own. He asked for volunteers from three groups — white collar prisoners, violent criminals and a “control” group of ordinary Spaniards — and surveyed each on their values and beliefs.
The results surprised everyone, he said.
“We think of these people as ruthless, but that’s not how it is,” Dr. Ruiz said of white collar criminals. “They have the same system of values as any ordinary citizen.”
Instead, Dr. Ruiz said, corrupt minds have a unique capacity to create exceptions to their own rules, what cognitive psychologists sometimes call “moral disengagement.” They have intricate ways of explaining away their misdeeds as somehow benefiting others rather than themselves.
And Dr. Ruiz found dangerous levels of two other traits in the fraudsters.
“Egocentrism and narcissism,” he said.
At first glance, Mr. Alburquerque, the corrupt notary in Córdoba who volunteered to be rehabilitated, doesn’t appear to have much of either. He’s mild-mannered and speaks in hushed tones even in the loud hubbub of the penitentiary. It’s hard to imagine that he pocketed nearly a half-million dollars before he was caught.
“Here, one has to take responsibility,” he said, admitting he had been wrong.
But there’s more to the story, Mr. Alburquerque said.
While sums of money may have disappeared under his watch, he had always made sure his employees were highly paid, unlike many other notary offices, he said. He had even attempted to return much of the fraud money before he was caught. Anyone in Córdoba could attest to the fact that he was a key member of the city, he added.
“I have an advantage over other mortals, but not all, in that I can sleep five hours less than others,” he said of his work ethic. “Always what I’ve done is worked and studied.”
They are words that Yolanda González Pérez, the prison warden, says she’s heard before from other white collar criminals who haven’t fully accepted their crimes.
“They tell themselves ‘I’m not as much of a criminal as the others are,’” she said.
But Mr. Ortiz, the director of the Spanish prison system, isn’t worried. He’s ready to roll up his sleeves with Mr. Alburquerque and other participants who might be willing to rethink their old ways.
Maybe a breakthrough will come early on, when according to a summary of the rehabilitation manual, psychiatrists will begin the process of “therapeutic alliance” to form a bond with the corrupt officials.
Or later on in week five, when the inmates “will finally take on the subject of developing humility and empathy.”
It takes patience to change someone, Mr. Ortiz said.
“We can be working months in these sessions,” he said. “We just keep at it with the prisoners and we’ll see when the fruit is ripe.”
KYIV, Ukraine — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told Ukraine’s president on Thursday that the United States strongly backed his country’s sovereignty against Russia’s military aggression but also warned that the embattled country was under threat from “internal forces,” including powerful oligarchs who thrive on corruption.
Mr. Blinken also said that, despite Russia’s recently announced plans to withdraw many of the 100,000 troops it had built up along the border with Ukraine in an alarming show of force this spring, a clear military threat remained.
“Russia has pulled back some forces, but significant forces remain on Ukraine’s border,” Mr. Blinken noted. “And so Russia has the capacity on fairly short notice to take aggressive actions if it so chooses.” Mr. Blinken added that the United States was “watching this very, very carefully.”
Mr. Blinken spoke at a joint news conference with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who effusively thanked the first senior Biden official to visit Kyiv since the departure of President Donald J. Trump from office. The former president ensnared Mr. Zelensky in a global scandal that the Ukrainian leader clearly hopes to forget.
efforts to drive corruption out of Ukraine’s political system, Mr. Zelensky boasted about his reform record, then indicated that he hopes the matter is finished.
“Let’s not talk about the past,” he said. “Let’s let bygones be bygones, and let’s discuss the future.”
a raid on his apartment and office. Federal agents were reportedly seeking evidence of his role in the May 2019 removal of the American ambassador to Ukraine, allegedly at the behest of Mr. Giuliani’s Ukrainian associates.
Mr. Blinken for his part maneuvered around a question featuring Mr. Giuliani, but reminded Mr. Zelensky — whose reform record has drawn mixed reviews — that “effectively combating corruption is one of the most important issues to the Ukrainian people, and is crucial to improving their lives.”
insurgency in the country’s east. Fighting in the region has claimed more than 13,000 lives, according to the United Nations.
To sustain that conflict, and to weather any new offensive by Russia, Ukrainian officials are eager for more military assistance and potential arms sales from Washington, which currently sends Ukraine more than $400 million in annual military aid. Mr. Blinken said that the Biden administration was “working very actively” on the subject but offered no further details.
But Mr. Blinken underscored his concern about Ukraine’s military plight with a morning visit to an outdoor memorial for soldiers who have died in the conflict in the east. The monument, known as the Wall of National Remembrance, features hundreds of photographs of the fallen that run along an outer wall of St. Michael’s, a 12th-century monastery and church.
In driving rain, Mr. Blinken, accompanied by the senior figure in Ukraine’s Orthodox Church and the country’s foreign minister, knelt to lay flowers at the foot of the wall.
Later, Mr. Blinken told Mr. Zelensky that the pictures of the fallen had touched him personally.
pressured him to announce an investigation into Mr. Biden, then a Democratic contender for president, and Mr. Biden’s son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian energy company. Mr. Trump withheld U.S. military aid to Ukraine as he pressed his request. The episode led to Mr. Trump’s first impeachment and a painfully awkward experience for Mr. Zelensky.
During the joint appearance with Mr. Blinken, the Ukrainian leader said he hoped that Mr. Biden himself could visit Ukraine soon. Mr. Blinken cited limits on travel because of the coronavirus but said that the American president “will welcome the opportunity at the right time.”
Mr. Blinken was joined by a longtime ally of the Ukrainians, the State Department’s newly confirmed under secretary for political affairs, Victoria Nuland. A career Foreign Service officer and high-ranking State Department official in the Obama administration, Ms. Nuland left government in early 2017 but was tapped this year to become the department’s No. 3 official.
Ms. Nuland is well remembered in Kyiv — and reviled at the Kremlin — for passing out food in 2013 to protesters in the Ukrainian capital’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, in the prelude to the overthrow of Viktor F. Yanukovych, the Russian-backed president of Ukraine at the time.
Her presence was clearly appreciated. At the beginning of a morning meeting with Mr. Blinken, the foreign minister, Dmytro Kubela, congratulated Ms. Nuland on her appointment and noted to laughter that one of the few major events on the Maidan that he had missed “was your cookies.”
LONDON — When Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrives in Ukraine early Thursday, he will encounter an all too familiar scene: a country struggling to defend itself from without and reconstruct itself from within.
It is little changed from the days when Mr. Blinken was a White House staffer in the Obama administration — and a warning that solutions might be years away still.
Mr. Blinken is the first senior Biden administration official to visit Kyiv, and his task when he meets with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, will be to reassure him of American support against Russia’s ongoing aggression, which flared last month when Moscow built up more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s eastern border.
Russia began withdrawing those forces in late April but still has many of them and all their equipment in place. Moscow also continues to back a pro-Russian insurgency in a war in Ukraine’s east that has killed more than 13,000 people, according to the United Nations.
seeking evidence related to Mr. Giuliani’s role in the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in April 2019.
Although that saga is unlikely to be on the official agenda or to affect U.S. policy, it is a vivid reminder of the power of anti-reform figures in the country. Ukrainian associates of Mr. Giuliani pressed Mr. Giuliani to oust the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, because they viewed her as a threat to their business interests, American diplomats testified during the impeachment hearings in 2019.
Though Mr. Blinken is no stranger to Ukraine, having visited repeatedly during the Obama years, he will be joined by one of the government’s top experts and strongest defenders of the country, Victoria J. Nuland, who last week was confirmed as the State Department’s under secretary for political affairs, its No. 3 position.
As the department’s top official for Europe and Eurasia in the Obama administration, Ms. Nuland became a loathed figure in the Kremlin over her ardent support for Ukraine’s 2014 revolution. Russian officials bitterly recall how Ms. Nuland passed out food to protesters in Kyiv before they toppled Ukraine’s Russian-backed president, Viktor F. Yanukovych.
Ms. Nuland’s visit with Mr. Blinken comes a few weeks before President Biden is likely to meet with Mr. Putin during a trip to Europe. For now, Mr. Taylor said, that meeting in June serves as “a hostage” that may be preventing the Russian leader from sending troops across Ukraine’s border, though analysts remain divided about Mr. Putin’s motives in ordering the buildup. Some believe he may be simply trying to intimidate Mr. Zelensky and put Mr. Biden off balance.
Combat has been taking place within Ukraine for seven years, as government forces battle separatists armed and funded by the Kremlin, and a European-led peace process is deadlocked.
Mr. Biden himself has had extensive experience in Ukraine, having led the Obama administration’s actions there as vice president. On Tuesday, he said his “hope and expectation” was that he will meet with Mr. Putin during his trip to Europe, a meeting at which Ukraine is sure to be a central topic of discussion.
With an eye on Russia’s threats and meddling, Ukrainian officials have said they are eager for more security aid from the Biden administration, but it is far from clear whether that will be forthcoming.
Asked last week whether Mr. Blinken might come bearing such offers, Philip T. Reeker, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, pointed to $408 million in existing U.S. support, and said only, “I’m sure that will come up in our conversation.” Strong support exists in Congress for increasing that funding, Mr. Taylor noted.
During his visit, Mr. Blinken is expected to try to assess how much confidence to place in Mr. Zelensky, a former comedic actor elected in April 2019 with no political experience.
Just last month, President Volodymyr Zelensky donned a helmet and flak jacket to visit his soldiers in trenches at the front, showing defiance to the Russian military buildup. Praise and warm words of support flowed in from Ukraine’s Western allies.
In a statement, the State Department said Mr. Blinken would “reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. But he will also encourage continued progress in Ukraine’s institutional reform agenda, particularly anti-corruption action, with is key to securing Ukraine’s democratic institutions, economic prosperity and Euro-Atlantic future.”
In Kyiv, independent analysts have praised the tough-love policy.
“Biden is an opportunity Ukraine can use or lose,” Sergiy Sydorenko, editor of European Pravda, an online news outlet, said in an interview. “By the look of it, Biden really cares for democracy, and having a democratic Ukraine is vital for developments in the wider region, including Russia. But Biden’s support is not guaranteed.”
Anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine have been a mixed bag.
Earlier in his tenure, Mr. Zelensky’s political party and allies passed a law privatizing former collective farmland, a step toward unwinding corruption schemes in agriculture. He also formed an anti-corruption court, and this year, his government sanctioned oligarchs with ties to Russia.
But for Western donor nations that prop up the Ukrainian budget, a critical aspect of Mr. Zelensky’s presidency has been his relationship with an oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky, whom Ukraine’s own banking regulators accuse of embezzlement. Mr. Kolomoisky denies the allegations.
In March, the Biden administration sanctioned Mr. Kolomoisky and members of his family, and the U.S. authorities have frozen or seized his commercial real estate assets, including an office tower in Cleveland.
Two years ago, a freshly installed Mr. Zelensky was put through the mangle of American politics. A hangover still lingers.
In a phone call in July 2019, while withholding military aid, President Trump asked him for the “favor” of investigating Mr. Biden, a political adversary, and members of his family. Mr. Trump accused Mr. Biden of wrongdoing when he was vice president in the Obama administration.
Untangling this situation became an early headache for Mr. Zelensky in the first months of his presidency.
With seemingly little choice and his country at war and in need of the military assistance, Mr. Zelensky leaned toward helping in the scheme to discredit Mr. Biden. But Mr. Zelensky’s plans to publicly announce the investigation in September in a CNN interview, something that would have sealed his support for Mr. Trump’s position, never came to fruition. By then, a C.I.A. whistle-blower’s warning about the scheme became public and Mr. Zelensky was spared the need to pick a side.
Mr. Zelensky insisted that he had tried to remain neutral throughout, and his aides note that he never publicly endorsed Mr. Trump’s dirt-digging effort.
They say they see no reason for Mr. Biden to hold a grudge.
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel failed to form a new government by the midnight Tuesday deadline, putting his political future in jeopardy as he stands trial on corruption charges and prolonging a political deadlock that has only worsened after four elections in two years.
Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, may now give a rival, eclectic camp of anti-Netanyahu parties a chance to form a government, which could oust Mr. Netanyahu from power after 12 consecutive years in office.
Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party is by far the largest on Israel’s fractured political scene, having won 30 seats in a general election in March. Despite that, he was not able to muster enough coalition partners to command a majority of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Parliament.
His hopes for a right-wing and religious coalition ultimately fell short because his far-right allies refused to join a government supported by a small Islamist Arab party. The Arab party, Raam, was willing to back a Netanyahu administration in return for benefits for Israel’s Arab minority.
failed in a last-gasp effort to persuade a right-wing rival, Naftali Bennett, to join him in a power-sharing agreement that would have seen the pair take turns as prime minister.
Mr. Bennett had dismissed the offer, saying that even with his support Mr. Netanyahu could not muster a majority.
Three minutes before midnight, Likud issued a terse statement blaming Mr. Bennett for foiling Mr. Netanyahu’s chances by refusing to commit to a right-wing government, “which would certainly have led to the formation of a government joined by additional members of Parliament.”
Mr. Rivlin may now ask one of Mr. Netanyahu’s rivals — representing a disparate group of parties ranging from the pro-settlement right to the secular left — to try to cobble together a governing coalition that would send the prime minister into the opposition. Or Mr. Rivlin could ask Parliament to put forward a candidate.
He has three days to make that decision. His office said that he would restart the process on Wednesday morning by contacting each of the political parties represented in Parliament.
bribery, fraud and breach of trust, he has denied wrongdoing and insists the cases against him will collapse in court.
a political stalemate that has left Israel without a state budget for two consecutive years in the middle of a pandemic, and has delayed appointments to several key administrative and judicial posts.
The largest party challenging Likud, and the runner-up in the election, is Yesh Atid, a centrist group that won 17 seats. But its leader, Yair Lapid, a former finance minister, does not have an easy path to forming a government either.
The bloc opposing Mr. Netanyahu is made up of numerous other small parties with clashing agendas. The smaller right-wing parties in the bloc view Mr. Lapid as too left-wing to lead the government.
pledged during the election campaign to put his ego aside and concede the premiership if that was what it took to unseat Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
collapsed after seven months of political and administrative paralysis.
Some analysts say that Mr. Netanyahu, a political survivor, is happy to function as a caretaker prime minister, riding the wave of electoral turmoil from one transitional government to another, as long as he remains in office. And if the latest imbroglio ends in a fifth election, he is likely to run again.