Newsmakers -


Dennis Rodman takes North Korea, Berlusconi rises again, and a dictator’s daughter takes over in Seoul

Antonio Calanni/AP

Bagman on the stand

Nicolo Milioto, construction magnate and alleged bagman for Montreal’s infamous Rizzuto Mafia clan, took the stand at an inquiry into Quebec’s construction industry last week. Milioto, known as “Mr. Sidewalk” for his uncanny ability to nab municipal construction jobs, stated his name and occupation—and very little else. According to one newspaper’s tally, the bullet-headed Milioto said, “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” 522 times during his testimony. He said he was insulted to be associated with the Mafia, saying he was but a friend of since-assassinated don Nick Rizzuto. It’s a surprise he remembered that much.

Basketball diplomacy

Former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman is trying his hand at “basketball diplomacy” in North Korea. News that “the Worm,” as he was once known, had made it into the Hermit Kingdom to film a documentary arrived via Twitter: “It’s true, I’m in North Korea. Looking forward to sitting down with Kim Jong Un,” he said. The sentiment may be shared: growing up, Kim Jong Un, the country’s young dictator, was a huge fan of Rodman’s ’90s-era Chicago Bulls.

Enter Mr. Fixit

SNC-Lavalin Group hired a new chief compliance officer last week to help clean up the embattled engineering giant in the wake of a bribery scandal. (Two former SNC executives—former CEO Pierre Duhaime and Riadh Ben Aissa—face fraud charges relating to the firm’s contract to design, build and maintain the McGill University Health Centre’s new $1.3-billion hospital.) SNC’s incoming CCO, German executive Andreas Pohlmann, has acted as a go-to for scandal-plagued companies: he was brought in to fix Siemens after a $2-billion bribery scandal in 2006. Next, he headed up the compliance unit at German engineering firm Ferrostaal in 2010, after a bribery scandal there.

Like Lazarus

It seems playboy billionaire Silvio Berlusconi will again wield a hand in Italian politics and the eurozone’s precarious future. The former prime minister—Europe’s most scandal-plagued politician—rose from the political ashes only months ago, having earlier stepped down “for the love of Italy,” as he explained it. Italians this week gave Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition a third of the vote—shocking outside observers. No clear winner emerged, but with so many seats, Berlusconi will wield significant power in whatever government is formed.

All it takes is a spark . . .

The death of a Palestinian gas station attendant in Israeli custody last week is fuelling rising tensions in the West Bank, with talks of a possible uprising. Palestinians, citing an autopsy, claim Arafat Jaradat, 30, was tortured; Israelis say more testing is needed to determine the cause of his death. Jaradat was given a hero’s funeral this week, with thousands of angry Palestinians surrounding his grave.

A difficult lesson

A Winnipeg Aboriginal man who claimed city police took him on a “starlight” tour, ditching him on the outskirts of Winnipeg in the cold and dark without a jacket two winters ago, was forced to apologize last week for having made the whole thing up. Evan Maud, 22, told police he felt “bad” for what he’d “put them through”; Maud’s original story made national headlines when it broke, sparking outrage. Maud, who has been charged with mischief, made the apology as part of a mediation process, though offered no explanation as to why he’d lied. The Winnipeg Police Association accepted the apology, commending Maud for his bravery.

Who are the adults here?

Grade 8 students at Windsor, Ont.’s Roseland Public School were understandably thrilled to learn they were heading to Disney World to celebrate their graduation to high school. Teachers gave a PowerPoint presentation explaining where they’d be staying, and distributed travel and hotel information at a recent meeting. The students were encouraged to yell that they were “going to Disney!” Only then did they learn the truth: they were actually going to a local bowling alley. The students—and their parents—did not appreciate the cruel prank. “We were all shocked,” student Mona Makai told CTV, adding that teachers were laughing at she and her classmates’ expense. “We were like, ‘Okay, what’s happening here?’ ” School officials were forced to apologize for the mistake: “It was a huge error in judgment,” said Warren Kennedy, director of education of the Greater Essex County District School Board, adding that the teachers involved will not be punished. The kids, however, will be taken to Niagara Falls.

Like father, like daughter?

South Korea swore in its first female president this week—and she came in with tough words for North Korea. Park Geun-hye, in her inaugural address, urged her northern neighbour to abandon its nuclear program, saying it shouldn’t waste scant resources developing a bomb. Park also drew on the legacy of her father, a Cold War dictator who was assassinated in 1979, promising to return the country to the rapid economic growth it saw during Park Chung-hee’s rule.

Saving ‘precious’ graffiti

A mural thought to be the work of Banksy briefly appeared at a Miami auction house this week, expected to fetch up to $700,000. The problem was, no one could say quite how the elusive graffiti artist’s mural of a young boy sewing Union Jack bunting made it to the U.S. from a wall outside a north London dollar store. Auction owner Frederic Thut said the piece, Slave Labour, was legitimately obtained by a collector. Across the pond, however, local councillors cried foul. The mural had become a popular tourist attraction in the borough of Haringey since appearing during last summer’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Hours before the auction was set to begin, the piece was removed from the sale. Haringey council leader Claire Kober says the community will now try to bring back the graffiti to its rightful home.

Under the cover of lettuce

The future of Mali may be in flux, but thanks to Abdel Kader Haidara, the majority of Timbuktu’s priceless manuscripts have been smuggled out. Haidara, head of a renowned library in Timbuktu, led a smuggling operation to save thousands of documents relating to law, history and calligraphy—some of which date to the 13th century—before they could fall into the hands of Islamist fighters who have plunged the country into war. In all, 80 per cent of the manuscripts were spirited out of the city, hidden, in some cases, under the cover of fruit and lettuce.

Dubious honour

Bernard Valcourt is the newest federal cabinet minister to accept—or be assigned—the challenge of Aboriginal affairs. In the wake of John Duncan’s resignation over an errant letter to the Tax Court and new pressure to resolve the many challenges surrounding First Nations living conditions and governance, Valcourt last week became the fourth minister to hold the file since the Conservatives took power. Valcourt arrives with some experience, having been minister of state for Aboriginal affairs in Brian Mulroney’s government in the late 1980s.

Flextime flap

Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer is banning employees from telecommuting. In a memo leaked to media this week, the company claimed “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” and that employees need to work “side-by-side.” The move, which appears to lack Silicon Valley’s progressive vibe, has angered some employees, who point out the new rules, which take effect in June, won’t hurt Mayer herself: when her son was born last fall, she installed a nursery in her office.

‘Waving’ to fans

Decked out in Dior, Jennifer Lawrence looked every bit the Hollywood diva on Oscar night—until she flipped reporters the bird. The candid 22-year-old starlet also ordered McDonald’s from the red carpet and pulled silly faces. She may be America’s new sweetheart, but she’s definitely no angel.