Secret contributions to the president. An aggressive hunt for the source of leaks to a major newspaper about a police investigation into the contributors. Sound familiar? Now add a twist: the contributor in question is heir to the fortune of one of the biggest cosmetics companies in the world — L’Oreal.
What many are calling a ‘mini-Watergate’ has exploded across the French political scene over the past several weeks — and sparked a lawsuit by Le Monde challenging what the newspaper claims were unlawful measures used to identify their confidential sources.
The paper has been on a crusade to unearth secret contributions from France’s richest woman and L’Oreal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt, to President Nikolas Sarkozy’s presidential campaign and political party. On September 13, Le Monde sued the government alleging that Sarkozy ordered the country’s counter-intelligence services to identify and investigate its sources. Sarkozy denies the charges.
Here’s a video of Sylvie Kauffmann, editor of Le Monde, explaining the newspaper’s position and the necessity for strong legal protection for sources.
She speaks, as is often the case in France, in French. Here’s an English language take on the story, from the Brussels-based EU Observer.
A result thus far of the still-unfolding scandal: One of the newspaper’s sources inside the Ministry of Justice was recently transferred from Paris to a remote outpost in Latin America, to Cayenne, the capital of the French colony of Guiana.
Now we move to the southern hemisphere, where a series of stories in the Australian internet paper Crikey reveal the outsourcing of Australia’s foreign aid program to a small group of the country’s largest multinational companies.
In a detailed and scathing anatomy of the country’s foreign aid programs, the stories show how Australia has been channeling more than half of its multibillion-dollar fund for foreign aid through just six corporations. Those companies include GRM International, a company which, while receiving more than a billion dollars in aid-related grants, was owned by a company chartered in the Bahamas in order to cut its corporate taxes.
“The question,” the authors ask, “is whether such set-ups for tax minimization purposes are…acceptable for major recipients of Australian government contracts?”
The authors, led by Wendy Bacon, director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, headquartered at the University of Technology in Sydney, probed deep into government databases to reveal the privatization of the country’s foreign aid. They claim that there has been an overall shift over the past ten years — started by the conservative Howard administration and continued for the most part by the current Labour government — from channeling aid funds through development-oriented NGO’s to private companies, which now account for 85% of all Australian aid contracts.
This shift, they claim, has led to a dramatic decline in transparency, making it difficult to assess the performance of Australia’s foreign aid.