US Military Vet Recounts Arrests in Haiti

 An American security contractor at the center of a mysterious case roiling Haitian politics says that he and a group of fellow veterans were sent to Haiti on a mission to protect a businessman signing a more than $50 million contract at the country’s central bank. 

Chris Osman, a 44-year-old retired Navy SEAL, told The Associated Press that he and six fellow contractors were arrested by Haitian police during what was supposed to be a simple Sunday afternoon reconnaissance of the route their client would take to the bank the following day, Feb. 18. 

“It went bad for us,” he said in the first on-the-record interview by any of the arrested men. “I don’t know what the real truth is.” 

Osman said he and his fellow contractors — carrying a dozen semi-automatic rifles and pistols, along with satellite phones and other gear — had pulled away from the bank when they were stopped by police and detained for three days before they were set free by Haiti’s Justice Ministry and allowed to fly home to the U.S., where they were released without charges. 

The contractors’ unexplained release and the still-murky nature of their mission have helped fuel political chaos in Haiti, where President Jovenel Moise has faced months of protests over his government’s failure to prosecute the theft and mismanagement of $2 billion in subsidized oil aid from Venezuela under the administration of his predecessor and political patron, Michel Martelly.

Neither Moise’s administration nor the American ambassador in Haiti, Michele Sison, has offered any explanation of the U.S. contractors’ mission in Haiti or the reason for their release, which appeared to violate Haitian criminal procedure. Moise’s allies in the lower house of Parliament dissolved the Haitian government by dismissing Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant on Monday hours before he was due to testify in the Senate about the American contractors’ case. 

Communications Minister Jean-Michel Lapin was being named interim prime minister Thursday, but there seemed little likelihood that the government would be able to bring stability to a country gripped by rising inflation, energy shortages and popular discontent.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio flew to Haiti Wednesday for meetings with the president and opposition in which, the senator said on Twitter, he discussed the formation of a new government and the need for “good faith dialogue” and parliamentary elections scheduled for October. 

News site The Intercept reported Wednesday, citing anonymous sources, that one of the contractors, 52-year-old Marine veteran Kent Kroeker, had been told the mission was to escort presidential aide Fritz Jean-Louis to the Haitian central bank, who would electronically transfer $80 million from the government’s Venezuela oil fund to a second account controlled solely by the president in order to give Moise greater power over the government’s limited funds. 

Osman said that report did not match his experience in several key ways. 

Osman said he received a call from Hawkstorm Global, a security company based in Dallas, Texas, about a job in Haiti to provide private security for a client of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti for $1,000 a day. He said he didn’t know the client until he arrived in Haiti on a commercial flight on Feb. 16 and was introduced to Josue Leconte, a Haitian-American businessman with ties to the Moise administration. 

Leconte’s civil engineering firm, Preble-Rish, has done millions of dollars of business with the Haitian government over the years, according to Jake Johnston, a research associate at the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research who recently published a three-week investigation into the contractors’ case. Leconte’s partner is related by marriage to former president Martelly. 

“These are not just acquaintances, but people who for decades are basically family,” Johnston said. The only Haitian arrested in the case, Michael Estera, is a driver who has worked for Preble-Rish for many years, according to his lawyer. 

Leconte told the AP when reached by phone that he could not talk about the case and had no comment before hanging up. Meanwhile, spokesman Jean Baden Dubois said the governor of Haiti’s central bank was on a business trip in Qatar and unavailable for comment. 

The contractors were told that they would be escorting Leconte from his Port-au-Prince home to the central bank to sign an infrastructure deal with Moise’s administration, Osman said, adding that the deal required the signature of at least one high-ranking central bank official, hence the location. 

“We were all told that it was a huge contract with (Leconte’s) company … and that his company provides engineering contracts for the government of Haiti and that they were really close friends with the president and that the money was for infrastructure and rebuilding Haiti,” Osman said. 

On the day they were arrested, the group of four Americans, two Serbian nationals and two Haitian drivers got into two cars owned by Jean-Louis for a reconnaissance mission and to swing by the bank so some team members could talk to people there and let them know what they were doing, he said. 

“The actual job didn’t even start until the next day,” Osman said, adding that he never met or saw Jean-Louis during his time in Haiti, and that the only time he heard the name was when police asked if he knew Jean-Louis while he was in jail. 

He said team members Dustin Porte and Talon Ray Burton got out of the car to speak with bank officials or security while the rest of the group stayed inside with weapons nearby. Porte and Burton could not be reached for comment, and Burton’s brother did not return a message for comment. 

As they pulled away from the bank, Osman said a group of Haitian police officers stopped them and called their superiors. At that moment, Leconte and another man whom Osman identified as team leader and retired Navy SEAL Mike Phillips showed up in one car, and then Kroeker showed up in another car. Osman said police told Leconte and Phillips they could leave, and that Kroeker, a former KC-130 pilot, stayed with the group. 

“They literally abandoned us,” Osman said of Leconte and Phillips. 

Phillips declined to comment and referred requests for interviews to Kroeker, who did not respond to a request for comment. 

The group was released Feb. 20. Osman said a police officer simply opened the cell doors, led them to diplomatic vehicles that took them to the airport. He said he didn’t know who ordered their release or authorized it. Once they arrived in Miami, he said the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security interviewed everyone separately for several hours. 

“We asked what was going on,” Osman said. “They said, ‘Nothing, man, you’re not going to be charged with anything. … Welcome home.’”

Miami Open: Цуренко дізналася ім’я суперниці у другому колі

Визначилась суперниця другої ракетки України Лесі Цуренко у другому колі турніру Miami Open серії WTA Premier Mandatory.

Нею стала 112 ракетка світу, представниця Японії Місакі Доі, яка в першому раунді обіграла китаянку Ван Сіньюй.

Сьогодні вночі свій матч другого кола проведе Даяна Ястремська. Її суперниця – австралійка Ешлі Барті.

Перша ракетка України Еліна Світоліна у другому раунді зустрінеться з переможницею матчу між Ван Яфань (Китай) і Христиною Младеновіч (Франція).

Waiting for Mueller Report, and What Happens Next

America is waiting for special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. But anyone looking for a grand narrative on President Donald Trump, Russian election interference and all the details uncovered over the past 22 months could end up disappointed. 

 

The timing of Mueller’s endgame is unclear. Attorney General William Barr, who oversees the investigation, has said he wants to release as much information as he can about the inquiry into possible coordination between Trump associates and Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election. But during his confirmation hearing last month, Barr said he ultimately would decide what the public sees, and that any report would be in his words, not Mueller’s. 

 

Some key questions: 

 

What happens when the investigation ends?

Mueller will have to turn in a report of some kind when he’s done. It could be a pretty bare-bones product. 

 

Justice Department regulations require only that Mueller give the attorney general a confidential report that explains the decisions to pursue or decline prosecutions. That could be as simple as a bullet point list or as fulsome as a report running hundreds of pages. 

 

Mueller has given no guidance on what it will be or when it will come, but signs a conclusion is coming soon have mounted in recent months.  

Matthew Whitaker, who was acting attorney general before Barr was confirmed, said in January that the investigation was nearly done. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, has been preparing to leave his post soon. The number of prosecutors working for Mueller has dwindled, and his team, which had sought an interview with the president, has not had meaningful dialogue with Trump’s lawyers in months.

Mueller also hasn’t filed any new cases in two months. 

 

What does Barr say he’ll do?

Barr said he envisioned two reports, and only one for congressional and public consumption. 

 

Barr has said he takes seriously the “shall be confidential” part of the regulations governing Mueller’s report. He has noted that department protocol says internal memos explaining charging decisions should not be released. 

 

During his confirmation hearing, Barr said he would draft, after Mueller turned in his report, a second one for the chairman and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees. But here again, the regulations provide little guidance for what such a report would say. 

 

The attorney general is required only to say the investigation has concluded and describe or explain any times when he or Rosenstein decided an action Mueller proposed “was so inappropriate or unwarranted” that it should not be pursued. 

 

Barr indicated that he expected to use his report to share the results of Mueller’s investigation with the public, which the regulations allow him to do. But he hedged on specifics and said his plans could change after speaking with Mueller and Rosenstein. 

​What will Trump do?

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has said the president’s legal team wants to review any report before it’s released. Giuliani also raised the prospect that Trump’s lawyers could try to invoke executive privilege to prevent the disclosure of any confidential conversation the president has had with his aides. 

 

It’s not clear whether the president’s lawyers will get an advance look at Mueller’s conclusions. Mueller, after all, reports to the Justice Department, not the White House. 

 

Barr himself seemed to dismiss that idea. When Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked Barr whether Trump and his lawyers would be able to put their own spin on the report before its release, Barr replied: “That will not happen.” 

 

Will there be a final news conference?

It seems unlikely, especially if prosecutors plan to discuss people they never charged.  

Then-FBI Director James Comey broke from Justice Department protocol in extraordinary fashion with his July 2016 news conference announcing the FBI would not recommend criminal charges against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server. Barr has made clear his disapproval of Comey’s public move. 

 

“If you’re not going to indict someone, you don’t stand up there and unload negative information about the person,” Barr said. 

 

There have been times when the department has elaborated on decisions not to pursue criminal charges. Also, there is some precedent for special counsels appointed by the Justice Department to hold news conferences. 

 

Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel who investigated the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame and who was granted even broader authority than Mueller, held a 2005 news conference when he charged I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. But even then, Fitzgerald drew a clear line. 

 

“One of the obligations of the prosecutors and the grand juries is to keep the information obtained in the investigation secret, not to share it with the public,” Fitzgerald said then. “And as frustrating as that may be for the public, that is important because, the way our system of justice works, if information is gathered about people and they’re not charged with a crime, we don’t hold up that information for the public to look at. We either charge them with a crime or we don’t.” 

​Can Congress subpoena Mueller and his report?

Sure. Powerful Democratic committee chairmen have said as much. 

 

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York has raised the prospect of subpoenaing the report and calling Mueller before Congress to ask him about his findings. So has Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Democrats also want all of Mueller’s underlying evidence, including interview transcripts and documents.

Schiff says he’s watching Barr’s moves carefully to see if he were “to try to bury any part of this report.” He says anything less than complete disclosure would leave Barr with “a tarnished legacy.” 

 

Many Republicans have also argued that the full report should be released. And the House voted 420-0 this month for a resolution calling for any final report to be made public. Still, many allies of the president have stopped short of saying it should be subpoenaed.

Trump, as the leader of the executive branch, could direct the Justice Department to defy the subpoena, setting the stage for a court fight that would almost certainly go to the Supreme Court. 

Will Trump be able to see the report?

It is unclear whether Trump will ask to see the report and under what circumstances he or his attorneys might be able to view it, especially because the document is meant to be confidential for Justice Department leadership. 

 

Barr said at his confirmation hearing that he would not permit White House interference in the investigation. But he also has voiced an expansive view of executive power in which the president functions as the country’s chief law enforcement officer and has wide latitude in giving directives to the FBI and Justice Department. 

 

Democrats could seize on any disclosure to the president to argue that the report really isn’t confidential and should be immediately provided to them as well.

Desperate Migrant Families Overwhelm US Border Agencies

A mother cradled a crying toddler as she waited in line with 20 other women to shower. Dozens of fathers quietly held their children’s hands in an enclosure made of chain-link fencing.

While these families were held at an overcrowded Border Patrol processing center, a fresh wave of migrants crossed the nearby river separating the U.S. and Mexico and waited for border agents to bring them to the same facility. One Honduran woman carried a feverish 7-month-old baby.

The cycle is repeated multiple times a day. Waves of desperate families are trying to cross the border almost hourly and entering an overtaxed government detention system.

The Border Patrol has become so overwhelmed in feeding and caring for the migrants that it announced plans this week to start releasing some families onto the street in the Rio Grande Valley to ease overcrowding in the processing center, providing the immigrants with a notice to appear at an upcoming court date.

“We have an unprecedented crisis upon us,” Robert Perez, deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol’s parent agency, said in an interview.

The Border Patrol says it made about 66,000 apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally in February, including 36,000 parents and children, an all-time monthly high.

Immigration authorities expect the number of parents and children to surpass 50,000 in March during the traditional spring spike in migration and potentially reach 180,000 in May, according to two U.S. officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about internal documents.

The Border Patrol ordered expanded medical screenings after the December deaths of two children in its custody. The agency received $30 million to upgrade its South Texas processing center and additional funding to build a similar facility in El Paso.

The autopsy results for Jakelin Caal and Felipe Gomez Alonzo have not yet been released, but Customs and Border Protection has said both children were hospitalized after developing high fevers and nausea.

Children with fevers, colds and the flu arrive daily at the border with their parents and sometimes wait for hours for the Border Patrol to pick them up.

On a recent Thursday, Carmen Mejia’s 7-month-old, Lian, was feverish, one of four sick children in her group of 20. His mother had heard about Jakelin and Felipe before leaving her rural town in northern Honduras.

“It made me sad,” she said. “But imagine. I’m here, also looking for a future for my son.”

Mejia said she hoped to find work to support Lian and two older children she had left behind with her mother.

While she spoke, two more waves of people arrived. The group grew to around 50 before the Border Patrol could load everyone into vans and take them into detention.

Some migrants blamed extortion for forcing them to close small businesses. Others said gangs had killed close relatives and threatened to kill them.

President Donald Trump’s administration says most adult border crossers are economic migrants who count on being released if they bring a child and seek asylum. Immigration agency officials have called for Congress to change laws that would allow them to detain more adults and children and deport people from Central America quicker.

Trump’s signature solution — and the reason for his declaration of a national emergency — is a border wall, especially in South Texas, where there are comparatively few barriers. But a border wall would not stop families who aren’t trying to evade immigration authorities. Those families typically stop after crossing the Rio Grande and wait to be caught.

The Associated Press visited the South Texas processing center where many migrants end up. It’s an old warehouse, with overhead lighting that stays on around the clock and chain-link fencing that forms large cages.

Detainees are issued mats and foil blankets to sleep on the concrete floor. Each detainee receives a medical screening.

Dozens of children waited on their own. Many were 10 years of age or older and kept separately from their parents, who are in another wing of the facility at the same time.

Some of the children waiting on their own talked among themselves. Others tried to sleep on mats under the glare of the lights, their foil blankets crinkling.

The facility received worldwide attention last June, during the Trump administration’s enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy that led to thousands of family separations. Around 1,100 people were detained at the facility then, many of them children who had been separated from their parents.

The facility opened in 2014 during the Obama administration to address another surge of thousands of unaccompanied teenagers arriving from Central America.

Now the processing center and other facilities in the sector deal with parents bringing young children and pregnant women who sometimes go into labor in detention.

“It isn’t meant for families,” said Carmen Qualia, an assistant chief patrol agent for the sector. “We’re set up for individuals.”

Agency guidelines require that parents are detained for no longer than 72 hours before being released or transferred to long-term detention centers with beds and more facilities. The average detention time for families late last week was about 60 hours.

Most families are eventually bused to a Catholic Charities facility in McAllen, where volunteers provide food and medical checkups before taking them to the bus station or airport.

The future of that facility is in jeopardy after McAllen city commissioners last month ordered Catholic Charities to vacate it by May, after complaints from neighbors.

But the Border Patrol is relying on the facility more than ever. While a few hundred people are sent there daily, immigration authorities dropped 800 migrants at Catholic Charities in just one day this week, leading to volunteers posting pleas on social media for donations and help.

Inside a small clinic behind the main building, Dr. Martin Garza listened to the heartbeat and lungs of 1-month-old Cesar Manuel Romero, cradled by his mother, 21-year-old Lily Romero of Honduras. Romero said she gave birth to Cesar on a bus as it passed through Monterrey, Mexico.

After crossing the border, Romero said they were taken to a smaller Border Patrol station — what she and other Spanish-speaking migrants often refer to as “la hielera,” or the icebox. She said another woman in custody loaned her a sweater so she could keep Cesar warm because agents had taken many of her belongings.

She said they were given water that was “nearly frozen.” Afterward, they were taken to the processing center and eventually released to Catholic Charities.

The Border Patrol says its facilities follow agency detention guidelines and that it investigates any complaints of mistreatment.

Garza said agents and medical professionals inside detention almost always diagnose major illnesses or injuries. But colds and fevers persist, along with conditions that aren’t obvious, he said.

“Infants are wheezing. Infants are having trouble breathing, and some of those things may not get picked up,” he said.

З 14 квітня для українців починає діяти туристичний «безвіз» до Таїланду

З 14 квітня 2019 року громадяни України зможуть подорожувати до Королівства Таїланд з туристичною метою без віз, повідомив Департамент консульської служби МЗС України.

«Для поїздки потрібно мати закордонний паспорт (біометричний або небіометричний), строк безвізового перебування – до 30 днів. Для перебування на території Таїланду строком більш ніж 30 днів, незалежно від мети подорожі, необхідно отримати візу у відповідному дипломатичному представництві або консульській установі», – йдеться в повідомленні.

Запровадження безвізового режиму між Україною і Таїландом президент Петро Порошенко анонсував у листопаді минулого року.

У січні поточного року в МЗС заявляли, що Україна веде переговори про спрощення візового режиму або запровадження «безвізу» з 22 країнами світу.

Кубок світу з біатлону: у спринтерській гонці найкраща з українок фінішувала 28-ю

На Кубку світу з біатлону 9-го етапу Кубка світу в Голменколлені (Норвегія) 21 березня відбулася спринтерська гонка у жінок.

Перемогу у ній здобула представниця Словаччини Анастасія Кузьміна.

Друге місце посіла німкеня Франциска Пройс, а замкнула трійку лідерів ще одна біатлоністка зі Словаччини – Пауліна Фіалкова.

Найкращою з українок стала Віта Семеренко. Вона відстрілялася чисто і фінішувала 28-ю.

Екс-президента Криму Мєшкова відпустили після двох діб арешту

Першого президента Криму Юрія Мєшкова відпустили ввечері 21 березня після двох діб арешту, повідомляє проект Радіо Свобода Крим.Реалії.

Згідно з повідомленням, Мєшков заявив про «нормальне» самопочуття і заявив, що розцінює свій арешт як «поліцейсько-судову операцію».

19 березня підконтрольний Кремлю Центральний районний суд Сімферополя заарештував на дві доби екс-президента Криму Юрія Мєшкова за «непокору співробітникам поліції».

Російські силовики в Сімферополі 18 березня затримали екс-президента Криму Юрія Мєшкова за заявою невідомої особи про те, що колишній кримський президент нібито перебуває в стані наркотичного сп’яніння. Пізніше його відвезли на огляд, однак, за словами Мєшкова, слідів алкогольного чи наркотичного сп’яніння в нього не виявили.

Наприкінці лютого екс-президент Криму Юрій Мєшков критикував підконтрольних Кремлю чиновників півострова за «зраду» Росії під час анексії півострова.

Юрій Мєшков – кримський політик і юрист, перший і єдиний президент Криму (1994-1995), формальний голова Ради Міністрів Криму (1994).

Йованович і Аваков обговорили «важливість вільних і справедливих виборів» в Україні

Посол США звернула увагу на «важливу роль і відповідальність МВС України у протидії загрозам і запобіганні проявів насильства екстремістськими угрупованнями»

США спростували заяву Луценка щодо «списку» від Йованович

Державний департамент США спростовує заяву генерального прокурора України Юрія Луценка про те, що посол США Марі Йованович надала йому «список людей, яких ми не повинні переслідувати».

«Заява генерального прокурора України не відповідає дійсності і покликана послабити репутацію посла Йованович», – йдеться у заяві Держдепартаменту.

Напередодні генеральний прокурор України Юрій Луценко в інтерв’ю американському виданню The Hill заявив, що посол США в Києві Марі Йованович передала перелік людей, яких просила «не переслідувати». В інтерв’ю The Hill Держдепартамент назвав цю заяву Луценка «відвертою вигадкою».

Луценко у тому ж інтерв’ю заявив також про відкриття кримінального провадження через ймовірні спроби громадян України втрутитися у вибори президента США 2016 року. Після цього президент США Дональд Трамп залишив допис у Twitter: «Російська змова зникає, а українська змова на допомогу Клінтон постає».

5 березня під час виступу в Українському кризовому медіа-центрі посол США в Україні Марі Йованович закликала розслідувати інформацію про корупцію в «Укроборонпромі» та інших місцях», а також висловилася за звільнення очільника Спеціалізованої антикорупційної прокуратури Назара Холодницького.

Протест проти проекту Меморіалу Небесної сотні на старті будівництва загрожує його появі – заява

В організації «Національний меморіальний комплекс героїв Небесної сотні – Музей Революції гідності» заявили, що протест проти проекту Меморіалу Небесної сотні на етапі старту будівництва загрожує в майбутньому відсутністю будь-якого меморіалу взагалі. Про це йдеться у відповіді на відкритого листа від 20 родин героїв Небесної сотні та низки громадських об’єднань від 19 березня, які вимагали внести зміни у проект побудови Меморіалу Небесної сотні у Києві.

«Проект не може враховувати усі думки, хоча б зважаючи на їхню взаємну суперечність та відсутність єдиного консолідованого рішення, але дотримання законних процедур є саме тим інструментом, який дозволяє прийняти максимально правильне рішення. Протест проти проекту Меморіалу саме зараз, на етапі старту його будівництва, загрожує в майбутньому відсутністю будь-якого меморіалу взагалі. Це шлях у нікуди, бо ймовірні наступні конкурси та проекти теж матимуть своїх супротивників, які також претендуватимуть на категоричність своїх позицій», – мовиться у заяві.

У відповіді Музею Майдану йдеться про те, що весь хід реалізації проекту Меморіалу –  від початку конкурсних процедур і донині – є в публічному доступі, і всю інформацію надсилали адресно і родинам героїв Небесної сотні.

«Закликаємо представників родин героїв Небесної сотні і всю українську спільноту об’єднатись навколо увічнення пам’яті загиблих Героїв і захистити будівництво Меморіалу, яке на сьогодні є під загрозою», – мовиться у заяві музею.

19 березня 20 родин героїв Небесної сотні та низка громадських об’єднань звернулись до представників влади і громадськості з вимогою внести зміни у проект побудови Меморіалу Небесної сотні у Києві. Автори листа заявили, що у разі реалізації проекту-переможця конкурсу на найкращий меморіал буде зруйновано історичний ландшафт, де сталися криваві події Майдану.

Національний меморіальний комплекс Героїв Небесної сотні – Музей Революції гідності був створений 18 листопада 2015 року, до першої річниці Майдану. Відтоді комплекс існує як юридична особа, не маючи фізичного приміщення, необхідного для зберігання та експонування експозиції. У 2017 році Київрада виділила для розбудови музею ділянку площею понад один гектар на алеї Героїв Небесної сотні, а уряд оголосив міжнародний конкурс на найкращий проект музею, який виграли німецькі архітектори Ян Кляйгюс і Йоганнес Кресснер.