AP INVESTIGATION: High costs, corruption suspicions in Brazil's World Cup on tournament's eve
BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — The cost of building Brasilia's World Cup stadium has nearly tripled to $900 million in public funds, largely due to allegedly fraudulent billing, government auditors say. The spike in costs has made it the world's second-most expensive soccer arena, even though the city has no major professional team.
Mane Garrincha stadium, which boasts 288 imposing concrete pillars holding aloft a high-tech self-cleaning roof, has become the costliest project related to Brazil's $11.5 billion World Cup. Critics call it the poster child for out-of-control spending and mismanagement, or worse.
Now, an Associated Press analysis of data from Brazil's top electoral court shows skyrocketing campaign contributions by the very companies involved in the most Cup projects. The lead builder of Brasilia's stadium increased its political donations 500-fold in the most recent election.
The financial links between construction firms and politicians add to deep suspicions among Brazilians that preparations for soccer's premier event beginning next month are tainted by corruption, raising questions about how politicians who benefit from construction firms' largesse can be effective watchdogs over billion-dollar World Cup contracts. Anger over perceived corruption helped fuel huge protests last year, and there are fears more unrest could mar the Cup.
"These donations are making corruption in this country even worse and making it increasingly difficult to fight," said Renato Rainha, an arbiter at Brasilia's Audit Court, which is investigating the spending on Brasilia's stadium. "These politicians are working for those who financed campaigns."
Kremlin urges dialogue between Ukraine's central government and eastern regions after vote
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — The Kremlin urged the Ukrainian government Monday to engage in talks with representatives of the eastern part of the country following the controversial referendums where about 90 percent of voters said they backed their regions' sovereignty.
The statement signaled that Russia has no immediate intention to annex the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, like it did with Crimea following a similar referendum in March. The cautious stance appears to reflect Russian President Vladimir Putin's hope to negotiate a solution to what has become the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War.
The Kremlin also urged the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to help broker talks between the central government in Kiev and representatives of the east after Sunday's vote.
Ukraine's central government and the West have condemned the balloting as a sham and a violation of international law, and accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest in a possible attempt to grab more land weeks after the annexation of Crimea — accusations that Russia has denied.
"The farce, which terrorists call the referendum, will have no legal consequences except the criminal responsibility for its organizers," Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said in a statement Monday.
A new draft day dawns: Michael Sam's kisses were instinctive, and so was network coverage
NEW YORK (AP) — The handsome football player gets drafted by an NFL team, plants an emotional kiss on his sweetheart and gives sportscasts a feel-good video clip.
It's a scene that plays out for dozens of draft picks.
But when a sobbing Michael Sam celebrated his selection by the St. Louis Rams by hugging and kissing his partner, another man, it made real and physical that an openly gay athlete had taken an unprecedented step toward an NFL career.
For some, the reaction was joy. For others, there was dismay or even anger. For the networks that carried and repeatedly aired the scene, it was business as usual.
Producer Seth Markman, who oversees NFL draft coverage for ESPN, said that in the extensive preparation for Sam's possible draft, "we never had one discussion about, 'What if he's drafted, his partner's there and they kiss?' Honestly, it never came up."
US prosecutors seek community help in bringing more human rights cases, despite challenges
ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — The Ethiopian jail guard suspected of torturing and maiming political prisoners during that country's "Red Terror" era came to the United States in 2004 under a false identity, seeking asylum and claiming he would be persecuted if he returned home.
He lived comfortably in Denver until one day in 2011 when another Ethiopian who recognized him outside a cafe confronted him with the words, "I think I know you."
And that's how Kefelegne Alemu Worku, convicted last year of identity theft and immigration fraud, came to the attention of federal law enforcement authorities.
The government would like to see that happen more often.
A Justice Department lawyer recounted Worku's case at a recent presentation for refugee advocates, part of an outreach to encourage the reporting of human-rights abusers hiding in plain sight. The hope is to raise the profile of a relatively new prosecution unit and to make refugees comfortable with helping investigators — a major challenge in human-rights criminal cases.
Nigeria's president refused international help to search for kidnapped girls — for weeks
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The president of Nigeria for weeks refused international help to search for more than 300 girls abducted from a school by Islamic extremists, one in a series of missteps that have led to growing international outrage against the government.
The United Kingdom, Nigeria's former colonizer, first said it was ready to help in a news release the day after the mass abduction on April 15, and made a formal offer of assistance on April 18, according to the British Foreign Office. And the U.S. has said its embassy and staff agencies offered help and were in touch with Nigeria "from day one" of the crisis, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Yet it was only on Tuesday and Wednesday, almost a month later, that President Goodluck Jonathan accepted help from the United States, Britain, France and China.
The delay underlines what has been a major problem in the attempt to find the girls: an apparent lack of urgency on the part of the government and military, for reasons that include a reluctance to bring in outsiders as well as possible infiltration by the extremists.
Jonathan bristled last week when he said U.S. President Barack Obama, in a telephone conversation about aid, had brought up alleged human rights abuses by Nigerian security forces. Jonathan also acknowledged that his government might be penetrated by insurgents from Boko Haram, the extremist group that kidnapped the girls. Last year, he said he suspected Boko Haram terrorists might be in the executive, legislative and judiciary arms of government along with the police and armed forces.
AP PHOTOS: Illegal miners in Peru's Amazon plagued by fear of looming government crackdown
LA PAMPA, Peru (AP) — They sweat through 28-hour shifts in the malarial jungle of the Madre de Dios region of southeastern Peru, braving the perils of collapsing earth and limb-crushing machinery to come up with a few grams of gold.
Most wildcat miners hail from impoverished highlands communities and barely earn subsistence wages. They chew coca leaf, a mild stimulant, to ward off the fatigue that can lead to fatal accidents.
Life is cheap in the mining camps. Deaths go unrecorded and the mercury they use to bind gold flecks compounds the risks. It doesn't just seep into the food chain. It poisons them and their families, too.
A new threat now looms for the estimated 20,000 wildcat miners who toil in a huge scar of denuded Amazon rainforest known as La Pampa, an area nearly three times the size of Washington, D.C.
Peru's government declared all informal mining illegal on April 19 and began a crackdown. It raided the older boomtown of Huepetuhe, dynamiting backhoes, trucks and generators. Troops even destroyed the outboard motors of canoes used to ferry mining equipment across the Inambari river.
Months-long fighting in Iraq's Anbar province hits business, adds more woes to Iraqi life
BAGHDAD (AP) — Fighting in Iraq's western Anbar province, now in its fifth month, appears to have bogged down, with government forces unable to drive out Islamic militants who took over one of the area's main cities. But the impact is being felt much further, with the repercussions rippling through the country's economy to hit consumers and businesses.
The large, desert province is a major crossroads. The main highways linking Baghdad and other parts of Iraq to Syria and Jordan run through it. So fighting has not only dislodged thousands of residents from their homes and forced shutdowns of their businesses. It has also disrupted shipping, inflating prices of goods in Baghdad and elsewhere. Fears of the road have gotten so bad Iraq has had to stop shipments of oil to Jordan.
Anwar Salah, co-owner of al-Baqiee travel agency in Baghdad, said his company used to run more than 13 trips a day by SUVs shuttling passengers between Baghdad and the Jordanian capital, Amman.
Now people avoid the highway, which runs near the flashpoint Anbar cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, fearing militant checkpoints or clashes. So his firm is down to one trip every other day, and profits have plunged by 90 percent, he said.
"Most of the drivers who used to work for me are now either jobless or working in other professions," he said. "We are part of the country's miserable situation."
Arkansas plans to appeal ruling allowing Bible Belt state to issue same-sex marriage licenses
EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) — The state's top lawyer will ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to review a lower court's decision to overturn a 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced his intent to appeal to the high court late Saturday night, but not before 15 licenses were issued for same-sex couples in northwest Arkansas' Carroll County, heralding the arrival of gay marriage in the Bible Belt.
"Thank God," Jennifer Rambo said after Carroll County Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn issued a marriage license to her and Kristin Seaton, a former volleyball player at the University of Arkansas. The Fort Smith couple had traveled overnight to ensure they'd be first in line, and wed moments later on a sidewalk near the courthouse.
Carroll County was believed to be the only county that issued marriage licenses Saturday. Several courthouses were open for early primary-election voting but staffers said they were not prepared to issue marriage licenses.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza paved the way for the marriages Friday with a ruling that removed a 10-year-old barrier, saying a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2004 banning gay marriage was "an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality." Piazza's ruling also overturned a 1997 state law banning gay marriage.
NBA says Shelly Sterling's ownership of Clippers would be terminated if Donald Sterling's is
NEW YORK (AP) — The NBA said if Donald Sterling's ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers is terminated, so is Shelly Sterling's.
Hours after Shelly Sterling said she would fight to keep her ownership of the franchise even if her estranged husband can't, the league said that wouldn't be possible.
"Under the NBA constitution, if a controlling owner's interest is terminated by a three-quarter vote, all other team owners' interests are automatically terminated as well," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement.
"It doesn't matter whether the owners are related as is the case here. These are the rules to which all NBA owners agreed to as a condition of owning their team."
Shelly Sterling's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell, responded to the NBA's statement.
Growth of texting as crisis negotiation tool challenges police accustomed to taking voice cues
The suspect in a gas station robbery and 100 mph chase kept pointing his handgun to his head, and police negotiator Andres Wells was doing all he could to keep the man from committing suicide. But he kept cutting Wells' phone calls short.
Then, about 10 minutes after the last hang up, Wells' cellphone chimed. It was a text — from the suspect.
"Please call Amie," the message said, followed by the number of the man's girlfriend.
Wells was taken aback. In three years as a negotiator with the Kalamazoo, Michigan, police, he'd always relied on spoken give-and-take, taking cues from a person's tone of voice, the inflections, emotions. He'd never thought about negotiating via text.
"It had never even been brought up at one of our training," Wells recalled of the 2011 case.