Russian PM Resigns Over Constitutional Reform Calls

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev meet with members of the government in Moscow on January 15, 2020.  AFP

 

Russia’s government resigned in a shock announcement on Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin proposed a shake-up of the constitution.

The announcement by Putin’s longtime ally Dmitry Medvedev came after the president used his annual state of the nation address to call for a nationwide vote on a package of constitutional reforms.

The resignation raises deep questions about the long-term shape of Russia’s political system and the future of Putin, who is due to step down at the end of his fourth Kremlin term in 2024.

A few hours after the Russian leader’s address, Medvedev and Putin appeared alongside each other on national television to say the government was stepping down.

Medvedev said the constitutional proposals would make significant changes to the country’s balance of power and so “the government in its current form has resigned”.

“We should provide the president of our country with the possibility to take all the necessary measures” to carry out the changes, Medvedev said. “All further decisions will be taken by the president.”

Putin thanked Medvedev — who also served as Russian president for four years from 2008 — expressing “satisfaction with the results that have been achieved.”

The changes Putin proposed on Wednesday would transfer more authority to parliament, including the power to choose the prime minister and senior cabinet members, instead of the president as under the current system.

Other changes would see the role of regional governors enhanced and residency requirements tightened for presidential candidates.

“Today in our society there is a clear demand for change,” Putin said in his address. “People want development, they are striving to move forward in their careers, in their education, in becoming prosperous.”

The package of reforms would be put to a national vote, he said, without specifying when.

“We will be able to build a strong prosperous Russia only on the basis of respect for public opinion,” the 67-year-old leader said.

 ‘Leader for life’ 

Speculation has swirled about changes to Russia’s political system that would allow Putin to stay on after 2024.

Some have suggested he could remain as a prime minister with increased powers or in a powerful behind-the-scenes role.

It was unclear how, if at all, the constitutional changes could affect Putin’s future role.

But leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said he expected any referendum to be “fraudulent crap” and that Putin’s goal remained to be “sole leader for life”.

Russia last conducted a referendum in 1993 when it adopted the constitution under Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin.

Putin has held a firm grip on the country since coming to power with Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999, staying on as prime minister when Medvedev took the presidency.

Re-elected to a six-year term in 2018, Putin has seen his approval ratings fall to some of their lowest levels, though still far above those of most Western leaders.

Recent polls put Putin’s rating at 68-70 percent, up a few points from a year ago but down from a high of more than 80 percent at the time of his last election.

Hit by Western sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia’s economy has stagnated and most Russians have seen their disposable income fall.

Frustration boiled over last summer, with thousands taking to the streets of Moscow to protest the exclusion of opposition candidates from local elections, leading to wide-scale arrests and long jail terms for a number of demonstrators.

The state of the nation address — delivered in the Manezh exhibition hall next to the Kremlin — is one of three big annual Putin events, along with a marathon press conference and live phone-in where he takes questions from the Russian public.

Finland PM Rinne Resigns After Losing Support

Prime Minister of Finland Antti Rinne gives a press conference where he announces his resignation at the Government Palace in Helsinki, Finland on December 3, 2019. Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva / AFP

 

Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne resigned on Tuesday after losing the support of the coalition partner Centre Party, though the governing alliance is expected to stay in power to avoid a snap election.

A Social Democrat who has headed the centre-left five-party government since June, Rinne handed his resignation to President Sauli Niinisto, who asked the government to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new government has been appointed, the presidency said.

“All of the governing parties have confidence in me, except the Centre Party. When I was told why they no longer have confidence in me, I made the decision to resign,” Rinne said.

The Centre Party was angered after the prime minister was accused of lying by the head of Finland Post — the culmination of a long-running dispute over reforms to the pay and conditions for some postal workers.

“All of the government parties are committed to the… government programme. If (me) being prime minister jeopardises the government programme, it is better that I steer clear of it,” Rinne told reporters.

The Social Democrats, Finland’s biggest party, will now appoint a successor to try to form a new government, which could take days or even weeks.

Sanna Marin, the party’s number two behind Rinne and the current minister of transport, has already said she would be willing to take over.

Political analyst Sini Korpinen said the coalition parties — the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Centre, Greens, Left Alliance and Swedish People’s Party — would in all likelihood agree to carry on together, as it was not in any of their interests to bring down the government.

That is especially true for the Centre Party, which “doesn’t want elections because they’d do worse” than last time.

“The most probable (scenario) is that they will carry on, with the same government programme” but possibly changing a few cabinet ministers, she told AFP.

– Finland Post crisis –

Rinne’s resignation comes after several weeks of political crisis over a plan to move 700 employees of Finland Post, a public limited company with the state as sole shareholder, to a less advantageous collective wage agreement to improve competition.

In September, criticism initially focused on the minister in charge of state ownership, Sirpa Paatero, a member of Rinne’s SDP.

The crisis deepened in November when a large strike broke out, with employees of other industries walking off the job in sympathy with the postal employees, which is permitted under Finnish labour law.

Finland Post withdrew its reform plans, but unions demanded to know whether the state had approved the reform. Paatero made several contradictory remarks before Rinne stepped in on November 28.

The prime minister denied that the state had given its blessing, but the following day the company’s chairman of the board accused Rinne of lying.

Rinne then announced Paatero’s resignation, but the move was seen as too little too late.

The Social Democrats won April’s legislative elections on promises to end years of economic belt-tightening introduced by the Centre Party to lift Finland out of a recession, and prioritising social equality.

gab/po/dl

Protesters Ask Roman Mayor Raggi To Resign

People take part in a peaceful protest march of members of Roman citizens committees, groups and associations that say care about the future of Rome and want to take charge themselves of the Italian capital, on October 26, 2019. ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

 

Hundreds of people marched along the Tiber River on Saturday to demand Rome mayor Virginia Raggi resign over the state of the Italian capital.

“Raggi is turning the city into somewhere to run away from, instead of a city where people can live with dignity, work and build their future,” the Tutti per Rome (Everyone for Rome) organisation said ahead of the rally.

“The whole world pities us,” it said.

The march came a day after trade unions in Rome staged a general strike, with workers including bus drivers and garbage collectors taking a stand against the mayor and her ruling Five Star Movement administration.

The Eternal City’s streets are riddled with potholes, buses regularly catch fire and officials have warned the perennial garbage crisis constitutes a health risk, with rat control services working overtime as bins overflow near tourist sites, homes and schools.

Raggi became the capital’s first female mayor in 2016 by tapping into anger over corruption scandals — in particular the infiltration of crime families in the city’s waste management system.

In April this year she defended herself against accusations she had failed to turn the situation around, saying Rome was “under attack” from mobsters determined not to release their grip on a lucrative sector.

AFP

Peru Vice President Resigns, Calls For Elections

Peruvian Vice-President Mercedes Araoz is pictured in Davos, Switzerland, as she joins Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Colombian President Ivan Duque while they give a statement recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

Peru’s vice president resigned and called for elections Tuesday, hours after parliament appointed her to lead the fight against the president’s dissolution of the body amid a bitter deadlock over corruption and appointments to the Supreme Court.

“I have decided to resign irrevocably from the position of Second Constitutional Vice President of the Republic,” Mercedes Araoz wrote on Twitter alongside a resignation letter, adding she hoped for “general elections in the shortest term.”

Lawmakers had accused President Martin Vizcarra of a “coup d’etat” after he dissolved the opposition-dominated Congress and called for fresh elections Monday, voting to suspend him temporarily from the presidency and appointing Araoz as leader.

But thousands poured into the streets of Lima and other cities in a show of support for Vizcarra — whose anti-graft drive is widely popular — with the armed forces and police confirming their backing of the president and a dozen regional governors joining celebratory street protests.

“There’s too much corruption. Too much of it without any shame. It’s high time this happened, that there’s a change,” said protester Jenny Sanchez in Lima, as demonstrators waved flags saying “New Peru.”

The resignation of Araoz — who had allied with supporters of corruption-tainted former opposition leader Keiko Fujimori — comes after the Organization of American States (OAS) refused to get involved in the Peru power dispute.

The body said Tuesday that it was up to Peru’s Constitutional Court to decide on the legality of the dissolution, and that it was “fair that the political polarization in the country will be resolved by the people at the polls.”

A number of lawmakers were considering appealing to the court to revoke the dissolution, according to Congress speaker Pedro Olaechea.

Despite the heated stand-off, Peru went about its business as usual on Tuesday, with the only noticeable change being heightened security around the government palace and Congress.

January elections 

Vizcarra’s call for fresh polls on January 26 was validated Tuesday by the independent National Jury of Elections.

The upcoming polls will likely favor leftist parties like Nuevo Peru and Frente Amplio, which supported the dissolution, political analyst Fernando Rospigliosi told AFP.

Under an electoral reform enacted last year, lawmakers cannot run for re-election. A new Congress would only have a mandate until 2021, to complete the five-year period for which the dissolved Congress was elected.

Until the elections, legislative duties will fall to a 27-member Permanent Congressional Commission, 18 of whom are opposition lawmakers, led by Congress speaker Pedro Olaechea, who accuses Vizcarra of unlawfully seizing power.

Vizcarra has repeatedly clashed with Congress, which is dominated by the Popular Force party of Keiko Fujimori.

He had warned Congress on Sunday that he would dissolve the body if it denied him a vote of confidence Monday on reforming the method of appointing magistrates. The move was aimed at preventing the opposition from taking control of the Supreme Court.

Stand-off 

Peru’s grinding political stand-off has its roots in the 2016 presidential election, when banker Pedro Pablo Kuczynski beat Keiko Fujimori.

Although she lost her bid for the presidency, her party won an overwhelming majority in Congress, eventually forcing Kuczynski’s resignation last year amid a corruption scandal.

Kuczynski was replaced by Vizcarra, then first vice president, who has vowed to clean up Peruvian politics.

Fujimori is the eldest daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori and is herself in prison awaiting trial after being accused of accepting $1.2 million in illicit party funding from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht for her 2011 presidential campaign.

The Supreme Court is currently debating whether to free Keiko — once Peru’s most popular politician — from pre-trial detention.

Odebrecht has admitted paying at least $29 million in bribes to Peruvian officials since 2004.

Three former presidents, including Kuczynski, are also being investigated over Odebrecht, while a fourth, Alan Garcia, committed suicide in April after police arrived at his house to arrest him for money laundering.

AFP

Algeria’s Minister Resigns After Deadly Stampede

 

Algeria’s Culture Minister Meriem Merdaci resigned Saturday, following the deaths of five young music fans in a stampede at a packed concert by rapper Soolking in the capital, the president’s office announced.

It said Merdaci handed her resignation to interim president Abdelkader Bensalah “who accepted it”.

On Friday, prime minister Noureddine Bedoui fired the head of ONDA (the National Office of Copyright and Neighbouring Rights), the public authority in charge of organising concerts. An investigation has been opened.

READ ALSO: Three Killed In Libya’s Air Raid

Thursday night’s stampede that killed five people aged between 13 and 22 came as fans thronged an entrance of the August-20 Stadium in Algiers where France-based Soolking was performing.

The 29-year-old is a major star in the North African country, his song “La Liberte” (Freedom) becoming a mainstay of anti-government protests that entered their seventh month on Friday.

AFP

DR Congo Health Minister Resigns Over Ebola

Congo’s Health Minister Oly Ilunga gestures as he speaks during a press conference following a meeting held by the United Nations on the Ebola disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo, on July 15, 2019, in Geneva. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

 

DR Congo’s health minister resigned Monday after President Felix Tshisekedi replaced him as the head of the country’s response to an Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 1,700 people.

“As a result of your decision to place the response to the Ebola outbreak under your direct supervision… I hereby submit my resignation as health minister,” Oly Ilunga said in a letter to his boss.

AFP

President Sall’s Brother Resigns Following Corruption Charges

Senegalese President Macky Sall.                                                                                  SEYLLOU / AFP

 

Senegalese President Macky Sall’s brother on Monday resigned as head of a state-run savings deposit after he was named in a BBC report on apparent mismanagement of national gas resources.

The BBC report broadcast earlier this month has caused an outcry in the poor West African country by suggesting a gas deal signed with BP had deprived the state of badly needed energy income.

The report says a company run by Sall’s younger brother Aliou Sall had been secretly paid a bonus in 2014 by the gas company that sold its shares in two Senegal gasfields to BP.

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Aliou Sall had denied allegations in the report warning he would file suit against the BBC. BP has also rejected the report.

The president’s brother on Monday said he was stepping down as head of the Caisse des Depots et Consignations or CDC fund he has directed since September 2017.

“I hereby notify you of my decision to step down,” Aliou Sall said. “This unfortunate controversy is based only on untruths.”

President Sall has himself called the accusations an attempt to destabilise a country trying to make the most of its natural resources.

In 2012, then newly-elected president Sall confirmed a decision taken by his predecessor Abdoulaye Wade to award exploitation rights for two offshore oil and gas fields to the Timis Corporation, controlled by an Australian-Romanian businessman, Frank Timis.

The BBC, in its report broadcast on its Panorama and Africa Eye programmes, said that two years later Timis Corporation secretly paid a “bonus” of $250,000 (222,000 euros) to Agritrans, a company controlled by Aliou Sall.

The president’s brother had already stepped down in October 2016 from his post in the Timis group after facing criticism of a possible conflict of interest.

Pressure has intensified on Sall since the report with protests from opponents and civil society to demand “transparency” in contracts related to the exploitation of gas and oil.

AFP

Rudi Garcia To Resign As Marseille Coach

Olympique de Marseille’s French head coach Rudi Garcia looks on during the French L1 football match between Caen (SMC) and Marseille (OM), at the Michel d’Ornano stadium, in the northwestern city of Caen.  CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

 

Rudi Garcia will step down as Marseille coach following this weekend’s final round of Ligue 1 matches after the French giants failed to qualify for European football next season.

“I’ve decided to leave. I put forth this solution to my president who accepted it,” Garcia said at a press conference Wednesday, sat alongside Marseille chief Jacques-Henri Eyraud.

The 55-year-old Garcia was appointed coach in October 2016 with the mandate of leading Marseille back into the Champions League, shortly after the club’s takeover by American tycoon Frank McCourt.

READ ALSO: Ghana Captain Gyan Backtracks On Retirement After Presidential Plea

He extended his deal last October until 2021, but Garcia will leave the Velodrome with two years remaining on his contract after missing out on a top-three finish.

Marseille are in sixth place, 11 points adrift of the Champions League places, going into Friday’s final game of the season against fifth-placed Montpellier.

“Rudi is a great coach and a man of great quality,” said Eyraud, who dismissed reports of an eight-figure payout for Garcia and his assistants.

AFP

Far-Right Ministers To Resign From Austria Govt After Scandal

Austrian Transport Minister and designated leader of far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) Norbert Hofer (L) and Interior Minister Herbert Kickl (FPOe) address a press conference, on May 20, 2019, in Vienna.  HANS PUNZ / APA / AFP

 

Austrian far-right ministers on Monday were ready to quit their posts, the party chief said after the country’s coalition government collapsed over a corruption scandal days before European elections.

Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has called for fresh elections after a hidden-camera sting forced his far-right deputy to resign, bringing an end to a coalition many on the European right held up as a model.

With Kurz scrambling to regain control over the weekend, saying he can no longer tolerate the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) scandals, media speculation is growing he will also oust far-right Interior Minister Herbert Kickl.

READ ALSO: Thousands Protest Alabama Abortion Law

The FPOe closed ranks behind Kickl, threatening to quit their cabinet posts, which besides the interior ministry include the foreign, defence, transport and social affairs ministries.

“We will give up our government offices if Interior Minister Herbert Kickl is forced out,” Norbert Hofer, who is infrastructure minister and took over the FPOe leadership on Sunday, told a press conference.

“I feel very sorry that such a great government project ends so soon… I think this government was very popular,” he said, adding that Kickl had done “nothing wrong”.

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen on Sunday suggested elections be held in early September with a date to be fixed after further talks with other parties.

 Fake Russian backer 

Heinz-Christian Strache stepped down as vice-chancellor and FPOe leader after recordings published by German media Friday showed him offering government contracts in return for campaign help to a fake Russian backer in a villa on the resort island of Ibiza.

Elsewhere in the footage, Strache appears to hint at ways political donations could escape legal scrutiny.

Kickl was FPOe secretary general at the time when any political donations would have been made. Strache on Saturday denied the party had received illegal funds.

“It is clear Herbert Kickl cannot investigate himself,” Kurz was quoted by the Kurier newspaper on Monday.

He has said the recordings were the final straw in a string of FPOe-related scandals.

The most damaging recent controversy linked to interior minister Kickl was last year when he ordered raids on the country’s own domestic intelligence agency BVT.

Numerous documents were seized, raising fears among Austria’s Western partners about the possibility of leaks to Moscow.

The FPOe has a cooperation agreement with President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

 Thousands demonstrate 

Over the weekend thousands of people demonstrated in Vienna against the government at an impromptu gathering in front of the chancellery on Saturday, as well as at a previously planned pro-EU rally on Sunday.

In an emotional resignation statement Saturday, Strache said he had been “stupid” and “irresponsible” but was the victim of a “targeted political attack”.

In the recordings — of unknown origin — Strache and a colleague from his party, who has also resigned, are seen talking to a woman purporting to be the niece of a Russian oligarch.

They discuss how she could gain control of the country’s largest-circulation tabloid, the Kronen Zeitung, and install editorial staff who would help the FPOe’s 2017 election campaign.

In return, Strache held out the possibility of awarding public contracts.

The Kremlin on Monday denied any involvement in the sting operation.

The scandal has already made waves outside of Austria.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the weekend reacted to the scandal by warning of the dangers of far-right politicians “for sale”, who wanted to “destroy the Europe of our values”.

The scandal may also dent the prospects of the far-right populist alliance marshalled by Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, in which the FPOe plays a key part.

AFP

Sri Lanka’s Police Chief Resigns Over Deadly Attacks

Sri Lanka police chief Pujith Jayasundara looks on after launching the first online service delivery of the Sri Lankan police at the headquarters in Colombo on March 7, 2017. Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP

 

Sri Lanka’s top police official, Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara, has resigned over failures that led to the deadly Easter bomb attacks, the country’s president said Friday.

“The IGP has resigned. He has sent his resignation to the acting defence secretary. I’ll nominate a new IGP soon,” President Maithripala Sirisena told reporters.

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Sirisena’s nominee has to be confirmed by a constitutional council.

The resignation comes after the country’s top defence ministry official, defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday.

AFP

Pressure Mounts On May To Resign After Securing Brexit Delay

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May attending the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) question and answer session in the House of Commons in London. MARK DUFFY / UK PARLIAMENT / AFP

 

British Prime Minister Theresa May faced down a call to resign on Thursday as she implored MPs to resolve the Brexit impasse at last after the EU granted a new six-month delay.

May’s 27 European Union counterparts pulled another all-nighter in Brussels before clinching a compromise timetable for Britain’s departure, extending the deadline until October 31.

Britain will be able to leave before then if its parliament finally manages to ratify the hotly-contested divorce deal May reached with the bloc and that has been behind all the political turmoil in London, with MPs unable to back it — or any alternative they themselves have come up with.

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“The whole country is intensely frustrated that this process to leave the European Union has not still been completed,” May told MPs in parliament.

She said lawmakers should reflect during their forthcoming Easter break on the decisions that will have to be made swiftly upon their return.

“Let us then resolve to find a way through this impasse,” said May.

“The choices we face are stark and the timetable is clear.”

The second departure extension — Britain was otherwise due to crash out on Friday — infuriated hardcore Brexiteers in her centre-right Conservative Party like William Cash, who want May’s head.

They fear that the delay might be prolonged yet again — and the extra time used to engineer a softer form of Brexit, or even see it annulled outright.

Cash said May had presided over an “abject surrender” in Brussels, adding: “Will she resign?”.

“I think you know the answer to that,” she replied.

May has promised to step down once she delivers the first stage of Brexit — meaning she could remain in power until near the end of the year.

 ‘Everything is possible’ 

The delay avoids a possible economic calamity on both sides of the Channel but does little to resolve the political morass that has seen May’s control over her MPs and cabinet gradually slip.

The pound traded steady and stocks held firm on news of the extension.

The delay allowed traders to breathe a sigh of relief but observers noted the reprieve was only brief with the agreement merely kicking the can down the road.

EU Council president Donald Tusk admitted in Brussels after the marathon meetings wound down that “everything is possible”.

“Our intention is to finalise the whole process in October… but I am too old to exclude another scenario,” he told reporters.

May did get an unexpected boost from US President Donald Trump.

“Too bad that the European Union is being so tough on the United Kingdom and Brexit,” he tweeted.

France’s Europe minister on Thursday defended President Emmanuel Macron’s opposition to granting a Brexit extension of more than six months.

A long extension would have been seen “as an attempt by the EU to hamper Britain’s departure by delaying the decision for as long as possible in hoping that they will change their mind,” Amelie de Montchalin told parliament.

 Cross-party push 

Unable to convince enough of her Conservatives and their Northern Irish allies to back the deal, May last week decided to try finding a compromise with the main opposition Labour Party.

A cross-party agreement could help her get a deal through by May 22, just in time for Britain to leave the EU without having to take part in European Parliamentary elections at the end of next month.

“Reaching an agreement will not be easy, because to be successful it will require both sides to make compromises,” said May.

Labour is primarily hoping to place Britain in a European customs union of some sort.

May had previously ruled this out because it prevents Britain from striking lucrative independent trade agreements with giants such as China and the United States.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the new delay represented a “diplomatic failure” and typified May’s “mishandling of the entire Brexit process”.

The veteran socialist said while the cross-party talks on finding a compromise were constructive and serious, “the red lines must move and we must see a real compromise”.

In the working-class port town of Tilbury east of London, which strongly backed leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum, Brexit supporters voiced their frustration at the new delay.

“I’m very disgruntled with it all,” Suzy Hornsby, 59, told AFP.

“We want out… I can’t wait to leave.”

AFP

Head Of US Secret Service To Resign

Director of the US Secret Service Randolph Alles speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP

 

The head of the Secret Service, which guards President Donald Trump and visiting heads of state, is stepping down, the White House said Monday in the administration’s latest sign of turbulence.

“The United States Secret Service director Randolph ‘Tex’ Alles… will be leaving shortly and President Trump has selected James M. Murray, a career member of the USSS, to take over as director beginning in May,” Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

No reason was given for the sudden departure of former Marine general Alles.

READ ALSO: Iran Declares US ‘State Sponsor Of Terrorism’

There was speculation in the US media that he may have been axed in connection to an incident in March at Trump’s golf club and weekend retreat in Florida, where an unauthorized woman got past security carrying Chinese passports and several electronic devices including a thumb drive allegedly found to contain malware.

But other reports said Alles could have lost his job due to some twist in the reportedly often heated internal political battles over White House staffing.

On Sunday, Trump announced via tweet the departure of Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who has spearheaded his controversial policies on trying to stop illegal immigrants and asylum seekers from entering the United States.

Trump said that US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan will be acting secretary.

The Secret Service’s main job is to provide security for the president and vice president and their families, as well as former presidents and visiting heads of state. It also coordinates the securing of buildings like the White House and foreign embassies.

A separate mission for the Secret Service focuses on fighting a range of financial crimes such as counterfeit currency and wire fraud.

AFP