US immigrants make sub-zero trek for slim chance at asylum in Canada

A man who claimed to be from Sudan illegally crosses the US-Canada border into Hemmingford, Quebec, in Canada. Photograph: Christinne Muschi/Reuters

His wet clothes frozen stiff and feet sinking into the deep snow, Mamadou allowed himself a shred of hope when he glimpsed a faint light in the distance.

Many hours earlier, he had set out for the border just as the sun was setting, trudging through thick woods near Plattsburgh, New York, towards Canada.

Temperatures plunged to -15C and a bitter wind whipped snow-laden tree branches into his face. Several times, he was forced to wade through rivers or lakes.

“I was so cold. I was soaked. I didn’t think I was going to make it,” said the 46-year-old, choking back tears as he recalled his ordeal earlier this month. “I didn’t know where I was going – I had no map, no lamp, no light – nothing.”

What he did know, he said, was that he had no other option. “Because I’m no longer safe in the United States, and in my country – I’m going to be killed.”

Mamadou, whose full name is not being published for his protection, decided to cross into Canada after more than a decade of living legally in the US.

He had fled from the Ivory Coast in 2006 soon after rebels killed his father and burned down his family home.

American authorities denied his request for asylum, but a judge allowed him to stay in the country on the grounds that deportation would endanger his life. Mamadou found work – legally – as a taxi driver in New York: “I worked hard and paid taxes.”

But when Trump was elected president of the US, Mamadou, a Muslim, wondered nervously what the news might mean for him. The answer came swiftly: in early March, immigration officials visited his apartment in the Bronx.

After their third visit – each time Mamadou was out working – he decided to seek refuge in Canada.

Days later he took a taxi to a border crossing near Plattsburgh, and explained his situation to Canadian immigration officials. They denied his asylum request, pointing to the Safe Third Country Agreement, which prohibits most people who have already sought asylum in the US from making a refugee claim in Canada.

But the agreement only applies at official border crossings; if refugees can slip into the country elsewhere along the 5,500-mile frontier, they are eligible to make a claim. He decided to slip across elsewhwere.

“But I didn’t know if it was Canada or the United States,” he said. The clue was in a street sign that read arrêt – or “stop”, in French. Relief overcame him as he realised this was the end of his nine-hour trek. Seconds later, he collapsed.

A police officer on patrol found him on the side of the road, clinging to life. As Mamadou lay unconscious, paramedics cut his frozen clothes and shoes off with scissors. Four hours later, he came to in a local hospital. He was still shivering and unable to speak, and his feet were swollen from frostbite.

His ordeal hints at the extreme risks being taken by some to make an asylum claim in Canada, said Mamadou’s lawyer, Éric Taillefer. “We found him,” he said. “But what if there’s someone we haven’t found? I really hope we’re not going to find a body in the spring.”

For months, advocates on both sides of the border have been urging the Canadian government to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, arguing that doing so will allow asylum seekers in the US to simply apply at official border crossings rather than making hazardous journeys.

So far the Canadian government has said it has no plans to suspend the agreement.

In Mamadou’s case, the agreement has resulted in a cruel twist. In Canada, asylum seekers are only allowed one chance to make a claim – a chance that Mamadou used up when he was first denied refugee status at the border crossing.

If he hadn’t applied first through proper channels and only crossed through the woods, he would now be eligible to make a refugee claim. Instead, he now faces deportation to the Ivory Coast, said Taillefer. His lawyers are pushing for him to be granted the right to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds, hoping he might be the exception in a program with a success rate of around 3%.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.

Trump’s commerce secretary oversaw Russia deal while at Bank of Cyprus


Wilbur Ross was previously vice-chairman of the Bank Of Cyprus. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Wilbur Ross, the Trump administration’s new commerce secretary, presided over a deal with a Russian businessman with ties to Vladimir Putin while serving in his previous role as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus.

The transaction raises questions about Ross’s tenure at the Cypriot bank and his ties to politically connected Russian oligarchs. It comes amid confirmation by the FBI that it is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

In 2015, while he served as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, the bank’s Russia-based businesses were sold to a Russian banker and consultant, Artem Avetisyan, who had ties to both the Russian president and Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank. At the time, Sberbank was under US and EU sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Avetisyan had earlier been selected by Putin to head a new business branch of the Russian president’s strategic initiative agency, which was tasked with improving business and government ties.

Avetisyan’s business partner, Oleg Gref, is the son of Herman Gref, Sberbank’s chief executive officer, and their consultancy has served as a “partner” to Sberbank, according to their website. Ross had described the Russian businesses – including 120 bank branches in Russia – as being worth “hundreds of millions of euros” in 2014 but they were sold with other assets to Avetisyan for €7m (£6m).

Ross has not been accused of wrongdoing and there is no indication the Russian deal violated US or EU sanctions. Ross resigned from the Bank of Cyprus board after he was confirmed as commerce secretary last month.

Ross, who had made billions of dollars years earlier by betting on bankrupt steel mills, was known for taking risky bets. But his decision to inject €400m into the bank with other investors encompassed a different kind of risk. It put him at the centre of the biggest financial institution in a country that was widely considered to be a tax haven for Russian oligarchs, even as the US and EU were imposing sanctions on Russia. In 2014, the year he made his investment, the US State Department considered Cyprus an area of “primary concern” for money laundering (pdf), according to its official assessment.

Ross was appointed vice-chairman at the bank after his investment in 2014, a post he shared with a deposit holder-turned-shareholder, Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, referred to in Russian media as a former KGB official and Putin ally. According to the bank’s annual reports, the two attended two board meetings together in 2014 and as many as five together in 2015 before Strzhalkovsky’s May 2015 resignation from the board. One of the questions that has been posed to Ross by Democratic senators is whether he ever had contact with Strzhalkovsky.

One of Ross’s first big decisions at the bank was the appointment of former Deutsche Bank chief executive Josef Ackermann as chairman, whom he chose in part because of Ackermann’s “huge Rolodex”, according to a 2014 Bloomberg interview.

Ackermann’s ties to Russia were especially strong, including a warm relationship with Putin and Herman Gref of Sberbank.

In a separate management decision under Ross’s watch, Bank of Cyprus gave Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank, until 2019 – four more years than originally planned – to pay back a €100m debt it owed in connection to Alfa’s purchase of the bank’s Ukrainian assets. Alfa Bank still owed Bank of Cyprus €57m as of the end of September. Bank of Cyprus said the extension was provided because of the “worsening geopolitical situation in Ukraine”.

John Koenig, former US ambassador to Cyprus, told the Guardian he did not believe Ross had ever gone out of his way to favour Russian investors or the Kremlin. At the time, he recalled, officials were actively seeking investments from big US and European banks but nobody was interested until Ross came along.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.

‘Turkish Trump,’ a Hotel Plan and a Tangle of Foreign Ties

Mukemmel Sarimsakci, a real estate executive who goes by Mike, or “Turkish Trump.” Credit Jake Dean

Before taking office, Donald J. Trump pledged that his business empire would forgo new deals abroad while he was president. But as the Trump Organization unveils a new brand of hotels, that promise is not preventing the company from bringing foreign deals home.

The company, now largely run by Mr. Trump’s eldest sons, Eric and Donald Jr., has been pursuing a downtown Dallas hotel project with a real estate firm that has deep Turkish roots. The hotel, if built, would fall under the Trump Organization’s Scion chain, a more affordable alternative to its five-star luxury line.

An examination by The New York Times of records including corporation registrations, private emails and archived websites found that Alterra Worldwide, the real estate firm that would own the hotel and be partners with the Trumps, has business ties in Russia, Kazakhstan and at least two dozen other countries. Ordinarily, such international experience would be a selling point for the firm, but it is a complicating factor when dealing with Mr. Trump’s company, where concerns already have been raised internally about some of Alterra’s foreign connections.

Alterra’s president, Mukemmel Sarimsakci, is a familiar face in Dallas, where he has recruited foreign investment to other developments that earned praise from city officials. Mr. Sarimsakci — who goes by Mike, or, alternatively, the “Turkish Trump” — is also listed on an expert consultant website charging $465 an hour for advice on doing business in such countries as Iran, Mexico and Nigeria. And he has counseled the governments of Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Sudan and Georgia, among others, on renewable energy, he acknowledged to The Times.

In January, then President-elect Trump and his lawyers announced his ethics plan, which included putting his business in a trust managed by his two eldest sons and an executive, while also appointing an outside ethics adviser and a chief compliance counsel to review potential deals.

In drafting his presidential ethics policy, Mr. Trump gave extra consideration to international dealings, given the emoluments clause of the Constitution banning federal employees from accepting gifts from foreign leaders or governments. He pledged that profits made from foreign governments at existing Trump hotels would be donated to the United States Treasury.

Projects in the United States, even those funded with foreign money, arguably pose less of a reputational and ethical threat to the company and the president because they would be subject to local laws and regulations. Even so, once foreign money is involved, it can be difficult to trace its origins.

Read the complete article on the New York Times web site.

Donald Trump Jr called ‘a disgrace’ for tweet goading London mayor

Donald Trump Jr: ‘You have to be kidding me?!’ Photograph: Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Donald Trump Jr is facing a backlash for criticizing London mayor Sadiq Khan with a scornful tweet sent hours after an attack at the Houses of Parliament left five dead, including a police officer.

The US president’s eldest son tweeted a link to a September 2016 story in the Independent, which quoted Khan saying terror attacks were “part and parcel of living in a big city”, and “I want to be reassured that every single agency and individual involved in protecting our city has the resources and expertise they need to respond in the event that London is attacked.”

“You have to be kidding me?!” Trump Jr tweeted, quoting the headline: “Terror attacks are part of living in big city, says London Mayor Sadiq Khan”.

Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr)

You have to be kidding me?!: Terror attacks are part of living in big city, says London Mayor Sadiq Khan https://t.co/uSm2pwRTjO

March 22, 2017

It’s unclear if the president’s son read the article or understood that the quote was from six months ago and not a response to the Wednesday attack, which police are treating as a terrorist incident.

This is not the first time Trump Jr has gotten into trouble for his tweets. In September, he compared Syrian refugees to poisoned Skittles, prompting widespread backlash. He also faced criticisms for sharing a white supremacist meme.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But later on Wednesday Trump Jr wrote in an email to the New York Times: “I’m not going to comment on every tweet I send.”

 

Trump-Russia inquiry in ‘grave doubt’

The top Democrat on one of the congressional committees investigating ties between Donald Trump and Russia has raised “grave doubt” over the viability of the inquiry after its Republican chairman shared information with the White House and not their committee colleagues.

In the latest wild development surrounding the Russia inquiry that has created an air of scandal around Trump, Democrat Adam Schiff effectively called his GOP counterpart, Devin Nunes, a proxy for the White House, questioning his conduct.

“These actions raise enormous doubt about whether the committee can do its work,” Schiff said late Wednesday afternoon after speaking with Nunes, his fellow Californian, before telling MSNBC that evidence tying Trump to Russia now appeared “more than circumstantial”.

Two days after testimony from the directors of the FBI and NSA that dismissed any factual basis to Trump’s 4 March claim that Barack Obama had him placed under surveillance, Nunes publicly stated he was “alarmed” to learn that the intelligence agencies may have “incidentally” collected communications from Trump and his associates.

Nunes, who served on Trump’s national security transition team, said the surveillance “appears to be all legally collected” and masked the identities of Americans, but did so in such a way that Nunes could hazard a guess as to whom the intercepted communications discussed. Nunes added that the alleged intercepts did not actually concern Russia.

“Details about persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting,” said Nunes, who has shifted the focus of the inquiry onto leaks that Trump blames on the intelligence agencies.

Nunes went to the White House to brief the president, who seized on the chairman’s comments as vindication, even though there is little evidence even in Nunes’s vague and often conditional remarks that they revive Trump’s claim that Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped.

“I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, I somewhat do,” Trump said Wednesday afternoon.

Nunes took whatever material he had acquired to Trump before sharing it with the committee – a decision that represented nearly a final straw for Schiff, who called for an independent commission to investigate ties between Trump and Russia.

In language that stripped away any pretense of cordiality remaining on the committee, Schiff said Nunes would have to decide whether to helm a credible inquiry or whether to operate as a White House adjunct, complicit in what Schiff intimated was a “campaign by the White House to deflect from the [FBI] director’s testimony”.

Asked if Schiff was considering pulling out of the inquiry, Schiff said he would have to “analyze what this development means”, suggesting a potential Democratic departure from one of the most internationally watched congressional investigations in recent history.

“If you have a chairman who is interacting with the White House, sharing information with the White House, when the people around the White House are the subject of the investigation and doing it before sharing it with the committee, it puts a profound doubt over whether that can be done credibly,” Schiff said.

Schiff reiterated that from what he had gleaned from his conversation with Nunes, “there is still no evidence that the president was wiretapped by his predecessor”.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper website.