This week: Newsmakers

The Dalai Lama retires, Charles Taylor just can’t get a fair shake, and a billionaire divorcee goes broke

Aijaz Rahi/AP

The best politics is no politics

Given his status as a revered spiritual leader, retirement was never really an option for the Dalai Lama. But the 76-year-old’s decision to formally relinquish his political duties to an elected member of Tibet’s government-in-exile could prove to have a meaningful impact on his followers. He revealed his intentions on the 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule, with elections to take place on March 20. By making good on a long-held promise, the Dalai Lama seeks to modernize the Tibetan movement while simultaneously making it more difficult for the Chinese government to capitalize on any power vacuum in the wake of his death.

How to spend a billion

She was dubbed “the wealthiest divorcee in history,” and Patricia Kluge‘s divorce spoils were rivalled only by those of Anna Murdoch, ex-wife of Rupert, and Slavica Ecclestone, ex-wife of Formula One boss Bernie. Kluge was believed to have received over US$1 billion in her 1990 divorce from media mogul John Kluge, which was reportedly amicable. Easy come, easy go. A series of bad business ventures followed, including a critically admired winery that supplied the wine for Chelsea Clinton‘s wedding last year. This week the 62-year-old’s mansion was foreclosed, her vineyard seized, and her jewels, artwork and artifacts sold. The US$3.8 million she got for a Qing dynasty clock (among other assets) wasn’t enough; Kluge is in debt to the tune of US$69 million.

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Oh, you mean THIS handicapped spot

Yukon Justice Minister Marian Horne‘s official view on handicapped parking is beyond reproach: her government amended the territory’s law so the city could crack down on people illegally parked in handicap zones. Her personal view is less defensible: she was ticketed on Jan. 25 for parking in a handicapped space herself. At first, Horne lied about being the driver of the car photographed in a restricted zone in downtown Whitehorse, claiming she didn’t know who parked the car. When pressed, she admitted that was untrue and paid the $250 fine.

A steady voice in shaky times

Since the massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan last week, an unlikely hero has emerged. Yukio Edano, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, has been a fixture on TV, offering up-to-the-minute updates several times a day—and night. By one estimate, he didn’t sleep for 105 hours. Edano’s effort has many on Twitter begging him to get a little shut-eye. “There is no substitute for you,” wrote one, “so please sleep even a little bit for the sake of your health!!!” And during one of Edano’s press conferences, another Twitterite offered some less-than-friendly advice for journalists: “Don’t waste his energy by asking ludicrous questions.”

The hunt is on

Six-foot-six, 400-lb. convicted B.C. murderer William Wade Bicknell is on the loose after a bold escape in Alberta. He overtook a corrections officer during an escorted leave and gained control of his vehicle. He then headed to Edmonton with the guard as a hostage, picking up firearms and ammunition along the way. He released the officer at a home in Chipman, Alta., where he stole a 2009 grey Chevrolet Impala, and continued on his breakout. While police throughout Western Canada are on the lookout, a union representing prison guards is asking why Bicknell, serving a life sentence for second-degree murder, was designated a minimum-security inmate.

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If the suit fits

She’s been a top runway model, TV host, occasional singer, and author. Now Tyra Banks can add Harvard Business School to her CV. The 37-year-old has reportedly been attending the prestigious university’s executive education owner/president management program since last year. Perhaps she was inspired by former supermodel Christy Turlington, who went back to Columbia University to study public health in 2009, then made her directorial debut with No Woman, No Cry, a documentary about maternal health across the globe. Banks may be the only Victoria’s Secret model in class, but her annual income of close to $30 million will surely help her fit in among the CEOs and entrepreneurs there.

Oh, brothers

The party abruptly ended for property tycoons Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz when the financial crisis hit. And now the hangover is beginning to set in. The high-rolling brothers, who were raised in Iran but built their empire in Britain, have been arrested in connection with an investigation into Kaupthing, the collapsed Icelandic bank. Investigators are looking at whether the brothers, who borrowed heavily from the bank, may have improperly obtained loans. It’s a sobering step down the social ladder. Over the years, Vincent made headlines for dining with Moammar Gadhafi‘s son Saif, while Robert dated American model Caprice Bourret.

A little dose of reality

When economic times are tough Americans are told to go shopping, which may be why Real Housewives of New Jersey star Teresa Giudice can get away with her excessive spending habits without turning off TV audiences. Not so in Greece. Critics in the Mediterranean country are ravaging the spinoff Real Housewives of Athens for showcasing the opulent lifestyles of ex-models Ioanna Soulioti and Annita Nathanail, and others. Meanwhile, the rest of the country is grappling with massive job losses and slashed incomes as part of the government’s austerity measures. Petra Nemcova, another reality TV star, appears to be faring better in the court of public opinion. The supermodel lost her fiancé and shattered her pelvis when a destructive tsunami hit Thailand in 2004. The Dancing With the Stars performer now runs a charity designed to help children cope with natural disasters. She was on the talk-show circuit this week talking about Japan.


Sid the Kid is back on the ice

Sidney Crosby, who has been out since suffering a concussion on Jan. 5, laced up his skates for the first time in more than two months this week. His first 15-minute skate was symptom-free, but No. 87 wasn’t making any promises that he’d be back for the playoffs: “I have no clue. I’m not thinking too far ahead.”

Well, given his definition of fair . . .

After 3½ years, the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor has finally wrapped up. Now it is up to a panel of judges to determine whether he can be linked to a grisly civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone—a conflict that was known for its horrifying murders and forced amputations. Taylor has been accused of supplying weapons to rebel leaders, who would chop off the hands or legs of civilians in a bid to terrorize locals. He was charged with 11 counts of murder, rape, pillaging and deploying child soldiers. But Taylor, whom the prosecutors called an “intelligent and charismatic man,” maintains that he was unable to get a fair trial before the international tribunal.

Life imitating art imitating life

Her unflinching performance as the drug dealer Snoop on hit series The Wire won Felicia Pearson accolades from both critics and fans. It’s no wonder: the actor, who was born into abject poverty and has served time for second-degree murder, may have been drawing from real life. Pearson was arrested in a large-scale drug sting in Baltimore, the setting for the HBO show. She insists she’s blameless, and Wire creator David Simon points out she is innocent till proven guilty. Still, he expressed his sadness at the charges, and at an entertainment industry that “does not offer a great many roles for those who can portray people from the other America.”

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But . . . what about Prom Queen?

Kids in the Hall fanatics may be chomping at the bit to see his new stand-up material, but Dave Foley won’t be coming home to Canada any time soon. The baby-faced comedian said last week he fears being sent to jail after piling up $500,000 in unpaid child support. He blames that figure on his failure to adjust support payments after the cancellation of the hit show NewsRadio. The lawyer representing his ex-wife, writer Tab­atha Southey, says Foley did try many times, without success. Foley doesn’t know why. “My income has dropped in the last 10 years, as anyone can tell from the number of s–tty movies I’ve been in,” he told a reporter.

Keep your enemies really close

When Wisconsin state Sen. Randy Hopper‘s wife Alysia answered the front door to protesters last week, she had some unexpected news: her husband wasn’t home, and hasn’t been, she alleged, since he shacked up last year with a then-25-year-old former staffer in Madison. Hopper, who filed for divorce last August, backed the state budget repair bill and, subsequently, became the target of death threats. An ally of Gov. Scott Walker, he’s also one of 16 state senators facing recall efforts. Alysia plans to sign the recall petition, which has reportedly already been endorsed by the family maid.

Fernando Leon/CP

Dog days of winter

The snow may be melting in Winnipeg, but it’s going to be Christmas in Corydon Village for the next while. Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Original Pictures are bringing Beethoven to the city to film the seventh instalment of the series about the lovable St. Bernard named after the great composer. Beethoven Saves Christmas will star Revenge of the Nerds star Curtis Armstrong and Kim Rhodes, and will be shot between Hugo and Cockburn Streets in Corydon, which is said to look like a “quaint American small town.”