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France’s Fillon sees support drop as calls rise for election pullout

Francois Fillon - the previous front-runner in France's presidential election - would not get into round two, a poll shows. He is losing support as a scandal involving payments to his wife and family members drags on. A poll by BVA of voting intentions gave Fillon between 18 and 20 percent of the vote in the April 23 first round, behind far-right leader Marine Le Pen with 25 percent and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron with 21-22 percent. A poll by Ifop Fiducial on Friday night showed a similar slide in support for Fillon since a scandal involving payments to his wife emerged in late January. A recent poll by Harris Interactive showed that 69 percent of French people wanted Fillon to drop his bid to become the country's president. Fillon told reporters on Friday that he would fight what he called a "demolition exercise." Macron the new favorite? Emmanuel Macron - the former protege of President Francois Hollande - is now favorite for the presidency. Macron last year created a new political party called "En Marche" ("On the Move"), on a centrist, liberal economic and pro-European platform. By electing Benoit Hamon, France's Socialists meanwhile appear unlikely to make much impact in the race. Marine Le Pen - leader of the far-right National Front - would lose to Macron in the May 7 knockout by 34 percent to his 66 percent, the BVA poll found. If Fillon did get through to the runoff against Le Pen, surveys suggest she would lose, with 40 percent of the vote to his 60 percent. The election will be staged in April and May of 2017, taking place across two rounds. If no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, the two candidates with the highest share of the vote proceed to a second round of voting. J'accuse "Le Canard Enchaine," a satirical newspaper, reported on January 25 that the former prime minister had paid his wife Penelope (left) 830,000 euros ($900,000) for work for him that she did not appear to have done. Police sources say two of Fillon's childrenare now implicated in a payment scandal. Sources close to the investigation said on Wednesday they were trying to establish whether the embattled conservative candidate paid large sums of money to two of his children. Fillon has insisted that Marie and Charles Fillon "were lawyers" for "specific assignments" when he was a senator. French prosecutors are seeking to determine whether there are grounds to suspect embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds, which could see Fillon formally charged.

Francois Fillon – the previous front-runner in France’s presidential election – would not get into round two, a poll shows. He is losing support as a scandal involving payments to his wife and family members drags on. A poll by BVA of voting intentions gave Fillon between 18 and 20 percent of the vote in the April 23 first round, ... Read More »

South Korea grills top executives over links to disgraced president

A senior executive at Samsung has denied receiving favors for donations to scandal-linked foundations. More than 50 corporate groups donated to foundations belonging to the president's longtime confidant. South Korean lawmakers on Tuesday questioned the heads of the country's top conglomerates, including Samsung, Hyundai Motor and six other companies, about their involvement in a political scandal rocking the presidency. Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong said that while President Park Geun-hye had asked him to support cultural and sports-related developments during a one-on-one meeting, there had been no request for financial aid. "There are many things that I feel embarrassed about and I regret as we have disappointed the public with many disgraceful things," Lee said. "There are often requests from various parts of society, including for culture and sports. We have never contributed seeking quid pro quo. His case was the same," he added. Looming impeachment Park's presidency has been disgraced by a influence-peddling scandal involving her longtime confidant Choi Soon-sil, who prosecutors charged in November with influencing state affairs and directing funds to two non-profit foundations she used for personal gain At least 53 corporate groups donated to the foundations, with Samsung being the largest donor, providing 20.4 billion won ($17.46 million, 16.24 million euros) to the two foundations. The hearing marked a rare moment for the country's most powerful business leaders, who rarely participate in such public events. Meanwhile, Park is expected to face an impeachment vote on Friday after several weeks of mass protests in the capital. If she steps down, she will be the first South Korea president to do so since the country's democratic reforms in the 1980s. Since the scandal erupted in October, Park has witnessed her approval ratings slide to an all-time low of four percent.

A senior executive at Samsung has denied receiving favors for donations to scandal-linked foundations. More than 50 corporate groups donated to foundations belonging to the president’s longtime confidant. South Korean lawmakers on Tuesday questioned the heads of the country’s top conglomerates, including Samsung, Hyundai Motor and six other companies, about their involvement in a political scandal rocking the presidency. Samsung ... Read More »

South Korea prosecutors raid Samsung offices in Park political scandal probe

South Korean prosecutors have raided Samsung Electronics offices as a part of a probe in the scandal involving President Park Geun-hye. There are allegations the company may have given millions to the president's friend. Prosecutors raided Samsung offices on Tuesday as a part of a probe in an ongoing scandal involving South Korean president Park Geun-hye. Prosecutors are looking into an allegation that Samsung might have given 2.8 million euros ($3.1 million) to Park's friend, Choi Soon-Sil, in order to finance Choi's daughter's equestrian training. Choi's daughter was previously a member of the South Korean national equestrian team and trained in Germany. A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said, "we're searching Samsung Electronics offices," without adding any further details. Samsung Electronics and Samsung Group made no comment. Choi is alleged to have used her closeness to Park in order to gain significant influence over the South Korean government, despite not having any official governmental role. Park has publicly apologized twice for the scandal. Her approval rating stands at just 5 percent, according to a Gallup poll released Friday. It is the lowest mark since polling began in 1988. Prime Minister to be proposed by parliament Park agreed to withdraw her prime minister nominee in the face of opposition in parliament on Tuesday. Park nominated a liberal candidate outside of her conservative Saenuri Party, but the opposition said they would reject her choice because they felt they were not consulted properly. It is the only cabinet position that requires parliamentary approval. Park said she would confirm a different candidate brought forth by opposition MPs. "If the National Assembly recommends a new premier, I will appoint him and let him control the cabinet," Park said. Tens of thousands rallied in Seoul on Saturday, demanding Park be removed from office.

South Korean prosecutors have raided Samsung Electronics offices as a part of a probe in the scandal involving President Park Geun-hye. There are allegations the company may have given millions to the president’s friend. Prosecutors raided Samsung offices on Tuesday as a part of a probe in an ongoing scandal involving South Korean president Park Geun-hye. Prosecutors are looking into ... Read More »

German emissions scandal threatens to engulf Mercedes, BMW

German auto giant Daimler has made legal threats against an environmental group after it tested diesel cars. The results appeared to show that Mercedes and BMW models are also cheating on emissions tests. The environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and German state broadcaster ZDF presented the results of nitric oxide tests they had conducted on two Mercedes and BMW diesel models. They appeared to show similar discrepancies between "test mode" and road conditions that hit Volkswagen earlier this year, triggering one of the biggest scandals in German automobile history. In response to the report released on December 15, a law firm representing Daimler, which owns Mercedes, sent a letter to the DUH that read, "Should you in any way present the accusation that my client manipulated its emissions data, we will act against you with all necessary sustainability and hold you responsible for any economic damage that my client suffers as a result." In defiance of another threat by the Schertz law firm, the DUH published the threatening letter in full on its website. "We have been massively threatened two more times, demanding that we take down the letter - we have told them we won't," DUH chairman Jürgen Resch told DW on Wednesday. "For me it's a very serious issue, because in 34 years of full-time work in environmental protection, and dealing with businesses, I have never experienced a business using media law to try and keep a communication - and a threatening letter at that - secret. "How are we supposed to do our work as a consumer and environmental protection organization when industry forbids us from making public certain threats it makes?" an outraged Resch added. "I think the threat itself is borderline legal coercion." Dirty diesel - on the road In a short documentary broadcast on December 15, ZDF tested three diesel cars - a Mercedes C200 CDI from 2011, a BMW 320d from 2009, and a VW Passat 2.0 Blue Motion from 2011 - and showed that all three produced more nitric oxide on the road than they did in an official laboratory test. "The measurement results show that the cars behave differently on the test dynamometer than when they are driven on the road," said the laboratory at the University of Applied Sciences in Bern, Switzerland, which carried out the tests. The discrepancies researchers found were not small - while all three cars kept comfortably below the European Union's legal nitric oxide limit (180 milligrams per kilometer) in the lab, they all went well over the standard on the road, where the BMW recorded 428 mg/km (2.8 times its lab result), the Mercedes hit 420 mg/km (2.7 times its lab result), and the VW Passat reached 471 mg/km (3.7 times its lab result). No technical explanation Daimler did not respond to a request for comment from DW, but company spokesman Jörg Howe told the "taz" newspaper that the company could not verify the test result and pointed out that the cars had already been used. "No one can rule out that they weren't damaged or manipulated by a third party," he said. He also said outside temperatures, road surfaces, and wind could all have played a part in the discrepancy. A spokesman for BMW denied to ZDF that it used any kind of manipulative device. These answers did not wash with the DUH or with other experts. "I would expect discrepancies in the nitric oxide measurements, but not on this scale," Kai Borgeest of the Center for Automobile Electronics and Combustion Engines at Aschaffenburg University told ZDF. "Technically it is conceivable that the other manufacturers tested used 'power down' installations in different ways - in other words software functions that recognize the test cycle. That would be illegal." Resch of the DUH went even further. "Neither BMW nor Mercedes can explain to us how these massive discrepancies came about," he told DW. "Talking about the wind or that there were more people in the car could maybe explain a 3 percent difference - we've got 300 percent. These discrepancies can't be technically justified." Government silence Amidst all this new scrutiny, the German government is maintaining a stony silence. In response to a DW request, the Transport Ministry did not offer any other explanation for the test discrepancies. "The federal automobile authority [KBA] is currently carrying out tests on the affected Volkswagen diesel models as well as other major manufacturers of diesel cars ... the tests are taking place both on the 'roller' and on the street," the ministry said in a brief statement. The KBA said it could not comment as its press spokesman was not in the office. The lack of explanations is beginning to irk the environmental groups. "We haven't heard anything from the KBA about Mercedes. We haven't even got a confirmation from the German authorities that they have received our report," said Resch. "Interestingly enough - the EU Commission, the European Parliament, some foreign governments are all highly interested in our tests. "And we haven't had to take anything back, content-wise," he added. "In all the years, every single line of our statements are all still there unchanged - and you can bet that Renault, BMW, VW, Mercedes did everything they could to find a false statement or to claim that our measurements were wrong. They haven't done that." The new battle with Daimler is just the latest in the DUH's long campaign to try and get the German government to control emissions on German carmakers. "In February 2011, we named the VW Passat with extremely high nitric oxide emissions - that was whistleblower information that, of course, we could only show to the authorities," he said. "For over eight years, every year we've made a scandal of it. That's why we desperately need federal agencies that have the courage to investigate these things. "Now we're handicapped by this existence-threatening pressure - because a lawsuit would mean our insolvency," Resch said. "That does make me pretty angry, to be obstructed like this."

German auto giant Daimler has made legal threats against an environmental group after it tested diesel cars. The results appeared to show that Mercedes and BMW models are also cheating on emissions tests. The environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and German state broadcaster ZDF presented the results of nitric oxide tests they had conducted on two Mercedes and BMW diesel ... Read More »

Will VW scandal end with prison sentences?

The auto industry is no stranger to legal trouble. Though companies normally reach financial settlements with US authorities, individuals at Volkswagen could face criminal charges. Spencer Kimball reports from Chicago. The timing couldn't be worse for Volkswagen. Before the VW emissions scandal broke, the US Justice Department vowed in a memo to redouble its efforts to prosecute individuals in white collar criminal cases - and a new CEO is unlikely to change that calculation. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, federal prosecutors extracted massive financial penalties from investment banks. But only one Wall Street executive, Kareem Serageldin at Credit Suisse, was prosecuted and sentenced to time in prison. "There's recently been criticism that the government has too often been using settlements with corporations as the end of the game and not following through as much on individual prosecutions," Samuel Buell, who prosecuted corporate crime at the Justice Department, told DW. Amid this controversy, the Justice Department's Resources and Environment Division has launched an investigation into Volkswagen cheating on diesel emissions tests, according to Bloomberg and "The Wall Street Journal." "This is their first opportunity really in a high-profile case to show that they mean business by going after individuals," Peter Henning, an expert on white collar crime at Wayne State University Law School, told DW. "So, unfortunately for Volkswagen, they're a year too late." Settlements the norm All three of the world's top automakers have now been subject to criminal investigations. GM was charged with concealing faulty ignition switches linked to 124 deaths. The world's third-largest automobile company settled with the Justice Department for $900 million. No individuals were charged with a crime. Toyota faced Justice Department scrutiny for withholding information about a sudden acceleration problem linked to fatalities. The world's second largest auto company settled with the government for $1.2 billion, but still faces some 400 wrongful death and injury lawsuits. Again, no individuals were charged. Now the world's top-selling car company, Volkswagen, potentially faces criminal charges for installing software to cheat diesel emissions tests . Though the emissions scandal has not been linked to any deaths, expert Peter Henning believes individuals at the company could very well face criminal charges. "This is intentional misconduct," Henning said. "This is so blatant. This has been going on for years. This was corporate a decision." "It's a perfect storm for Volkswagen," he continued. "The firm and the individuals don't have a lot of excuses, and you have a Department of Justice looking to go after individuals." Potential criminal penalties According to Samuel Buell, there's a range of charges individuals at Volkswagen could face depending on how the facts of the case pan out. Submitting false statements is a crime, and it's also illegal to defraud the United States government. There could also be charges for defrauding consumers who bought the diesel vehicles in question. Sentencing would likely be based on the damage done to consumers and the environment measured in monetary terms. According to Buell, if the damages reach tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars, individuals could face stiff prison sentences. "You could be looking at five or 10 years," said Buell, a law professor at Duke University. "It's important to know that there's no parole in our federal prison system. The sentences are real. When a judge says five or 10 years, that's basically what you get." But holding individuals accountable in the corporate context is difficult, according to Brandon Garrett, author of "Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations." Prosecutors have described difficulty in determining responsibility amidst complex corporate structures. "The complexity of organizations where many people work together with many levels of supervisors and consulting lawyers and other specialists can all make assigning blame a challenge if there is no 'smoking gun' type evidence," he said.

The auto industry is no stranger to legal trouble. Though companies normally reach financial settlements with US authorities, individuals at Volkswagen could face criminal charges. Spencer Kimball reports from Chicago. The timing couldn’t be worse for Volkswagen. Before the VW emissions scandal broke, the US Justice Department vowed in a memo to redouble its efforts to prosecute individuals in white ... Read More »

VW’s Winterkorn promises to fully clear up emissions scandal

VW CEO Martin Winterkorn has said he deeply regrets the current emissions cheating scandal surrounding the German carmaker. He said everything was being done to fully clear up the case as quickly as possible. In a video statement on the corporate website, Volkswagen Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn on Tuesday said he was "terribly sorry" for the emissions cheating scandal that had rocked the German auto maker. Winterkorn emphasized the scam "contradicted everything that Volkswagen stands for." "I formally apologize to our customers, the authorities and to the public in general for this misconduct," he said in the online video. The CEO promised that the scandal would be fully investigated, adding that all facts needed to be put on the table as quickly as possible and with the greatest possible degree of transparency. Heads to roll? Winterkorn provided no hint as to whether he'd step down from his post as a result of the scandal. He said it would be an error if the "huge mistakes of a few people were seen as a reason to place the honest work of 600,000 people under blanket suspicion; that's why I'm asking for your trust as we continue on our way. Workers' representatives on VW's supervisory board had reportedly pushed for heads to roll. "We can assure you that we will do everything possible to ensure the matter is cleared up quickly and that personnel consequences are drawn," Works Council chief Bernd Osterloh told employees on Tuesday. On Tuesday, it emerged that the emissions fixing could be a global problem - not just one in the US - with as many as 11 million cars from the Volkswagen AG family potentially affected. The cases revolve around diesel-powered models. VW's share price, already reeling from a difficult day's trade on Monday, was down almost 20 percent on Tuesday at around 106 euros ($118) per share. In March this year, the same stocks were selling for more than 250 euros each.

VW CEO Martin Winterkorn has said he deeply regrets the current emissions cheating scandal surrounding the German carmaker. He said everything was being done to fully clear up the case as quickly as possible. In a video statement on the corporate website, Volkswagen Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn on Tuesday said he was “terribly sorry” for the emissions cheating scandal that ... Read More »

VW CEO under pressure as stock crashes

Shares in German carmaker Volkswagen have nosedived after it admitted to rigging US emissions tests. VW has halted all sales of diesel vehicles there and calls are mounting for CEO Winterkorn to resign. Shares in German auto giant Volkswagen (VW) fell more than 20 percent in morning trading at the Frankfurt stock exchange on Monday in reaction to revelations that some of its diesel cars in the United States had been fitted with software that gave false emissions data. In a statement on Sunday, the carmaker had said that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had "detected manipulations that violate American environmental standards" while testing VW diesel cars. Chief executive Martin Winterkorn issued an apology and said he had ordered an external investigation into the matter. "The board of management takes these findings very seriously. I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public," Winterkorn said. Sales stop Meanwhile, the Volkswagen Group has ordered its dealers in the United States to halt all sales of the latest diesel models of its Volkswagen and Audi brands. The EPA said on Friday the software in these models deceived regulators measuring toxic emissions. Cynthia Giles, an enforcement officer at the EPA, said the cars in question "contained software that turns off emissions controls when driving normally and turns them on when the car is undergoing an emissions test". On the road, the cars were emitting as much as 40 times the level of pollutants allowed under clean air rules, Giles added. Volkswagen could face civil penalties of $37,500 (33,100 euros) for each vehicle not in compliance with federal clean air rules. Some 482,000 four-cylinder VW and Audi diesel cars sold since 2008 are involved in the allegations. If each car involved is found to be in noncompliance, the penalty could amount to $18 billion, an EPA official confirmed during a telephone conference on Friday. VW CEO Martin Winterkorn said the German carmaker would fully cooperate with US regulators, and added that the company would "not tolerate violations of any kind of our internal rules of law." Calls for the CEO to resign According to Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, automobile expert with Germany's Duisburg-Essen University, the chief executive is part of VW's problem and not the solution. He assumes Winterkorn must have known about the manipulations. "This component has received official clearance for all markets from the VW Development Department. The head of this department is Martin Winterkorn," Dudenhöffer told DW. "VW's board of directors needs to go on the offensive during a meeting scheduled for Friday to stem the fallout of the scandal. But this can only be achieved without CEO Winterkorn, I believe," he added. Bärbel Höhn, the head of the German parliament's environment commission, also said she thinks the deceptive software device couldn't have been installed without the CEO's approval. Höhn, a member of the environmentalist Greens Party, added she wouldn't be surprised if other carmakers are also found to have resorted to manipulations to meet tightened emissions standards in the United States and Europe.

Shares in German carmaker Volkswagen have nosedived after it admitted to rigging US emissions tests. VW has halted all sales of diesel vehicles there and calls are mounting for CEO Winterkorn to resign. Shares in German auto giant Volkswagen (VW) fell more than 20 percent in morning trading at the Frankfurt stock exchange on Monday in reaction to revelations that ... Read More »

Bribe hidden in South Africa Cup bid?

Johannesburg's Sunday Independent newspaper says a sum of $10 million was paid to the American body CONCACAF before the 2010 World Cup was hosted by South Africa. Its soccer president Danny Jordaan denies it was a bribe. The South African newspaper quoted Jordaan (pictured above) on Sunday as saying that the sum was paid to the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) in 2008. That would have been four years after South Africa won the bidding on May 15, 2004, over Morocco. CONCACAF was headed at the time by Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice president, who was one of 14 soccer and sports marketing officials indicted in recent days by US authorities. Warner was arrested in Trinidad on Wednesday but was freed a day later on bail pending US extradition proceedings. The US indictment said a "high ranking FIFA official" authorized in 2008 a $10 million payment to Warner as American confederation head. 'Football development' Jordaan, who also led South Africa's Local Organizing Committee (LOC), told the Sunday Independent that the $10 million (9.1 million euros) was intended for American "football development" and did not amount to a bribe. That sum was allegedly deducted directly by FIFA from a $100 million payment it had intended for South Africa to help it finance its hosting of the 2010 tournament. The Sunday Independent said it had "been reliably informed" that the South African Football Association (SAFA) received only $80 million. The balance of $10 million went toward new South African premises, Safa House. 'Part of African diaspora' The newspaper quoted another unnamed SAFA official as saying CONCACAF was chosen as recipient because "it regarded itself as part of the African diaspora." And, it quoted Jordaan as denying that any bribe took place: "How could we have paid a bribe for votes four years after we had won the bid?" He insisted it was not a bribe: "I haven't paid a bribe or taken a bribe from anybody in my life." In addition, Jordaan had said that during his tenure as LOC chief FIFA rules allowed him to only authorize "a maximum of R1 million" (75,000 euros) in payments. Sports minister declines comment The Sunday Independent said current South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula declined to respond on Saturday to the question of whether he was aware that $10 million was paid by FIFA to CONCACAF on behalf of South Africa in 2008. Mbalula referred the newspaper back to Jordaan "who will then give you all the details you want." Jordaan's admission that money had gone to CONCACAF followed a week of denials by South African football and government officials, the newspaper said. Let probe proceed, says Blatter Fifth-term FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who was re-elected Friday, with block votes from Asia and Africa but opposed by the European football body UEFA, said on Saturday he would not comment on South Africa's 2010 bid. "I don't go into these allegations. If such a thing is under investigation let it go [on] and definitely that's not me," Blatter said. Warner, after his release on bail on Thursday, gave a defiant speech in Trinidad, asking why persons at FIFA had not also been charged over the alleged money transfer? Thabo Mbeki, who was president when South Africa won the bid in 2004, was quoted on Sunday by the news agency AFP as saying "no public money was ever used to pay a bribe." Blatter facing Swiss quizzing Britain's Sunday Times newspaper said Blatter would be quizzed by Swiss prosecutors along with nine other serving FIFA officials as part of a separate Swiss investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids. Russian and Qatar denied wrongdoing in their bids. The British bank Barclays has reportedly also launched an internal probe. After Friday's FIFA congress election in Zurich, its sponsors, including Coca-Cola and VISA, called for quick moves to create transparency.

Johannesburg’s Sunday Independent newspaper says a sum of $10 million was paid to the American body CONCACAF before the 2010 World Cup was hosted by South Africa. Its soccer president Danny Jordaan denies it was a bribe. The South African newspaper quoted Jordaan (pictured above) on Sunday as saying that the sum was paid to the Confederation of North, Central ... Read More »

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