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Switzerland

Pakistani Businessman Jets Around World, Family Pockets Swiss Social Benefits

Swiss authorities have spent years investigating a jet-setting Pakistani man whose Zurich-based family somehow qualified for nearly $10,000 a month in social benefits. A Swiss court has finally delivered a verdict in the high-profile fraud case.

Room and board and more (images of money)
Room and board and more (images of money)


*NEWSBITES

ZURICH -- A Pakistani man living with his family in Zurich has received a 24-month prison sentence for fraud and falsifying documents. The man jetted around the world on business while his family lived on social benefits. Along with a carpet business, the man also brokered deals to sell technical equipment to the Pakistani military, and tried to export Swiss armored personnel carriers to Pakistan.

The court determined that between 2002 and 2007, the defendant received approximately $217,000 in social and unemployment benefits from the Swiss government. State prosecutors accused him of receiving even more money. The court dismissed the prosecution's estimate of roughly $542,000 for lack of proof.

The case first came to public attention when a Swiss newspaper wrote about the family in 2007. The newspaper published two articles on the matter, noting that the six-member family was receiving monthly social benefits of $9,900 and yet enjoyed a rather extravagant lifestyle. They employed several domestic workers and took many trips back to Pakistan, the articles reported. The City Council investigative committee took the matter up from there, and published a report in January 2008.

The report found that the $9,900 – for rent, health insurance, basic needs and house help -- was justified according to relevant regulations. A parking space was also included, although the man rented this out. Although the exact financing of trips back to Pakistan could not be established, the wife claimed that relatives paid for them. How the man's frequent international travel was financed was unclear.

The committee concluded that certain "lessons' could be learned from the case. Authorities, the committee decided, should have a firmer grip on reasons why receivers of benefits would travel and what their available assets are. In the case of people who claim to be self-employed, the state should have more knowledge about the exact nature of their work.

City Councilor Urs Egger, who presided over the committee, said it was clear "something was not right" about the family's situation. Alex Baur, the Weltwoche journalist who published the two articles about the family, called the whole thing a "farce."

State prosecutor Sabine Tobler had asked for a 42-month sentence without parole for the 58-year-old defendant, who was not present in court for reasons of ill-health.

Read the full story in German by Stefan Hohler

Photo - images of money

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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