Report: CIA Concludes Saudi Prince Ordered Journalist’s Killing

The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, The Washington Post reported Friday, a finding that contradicted Saudi government assertions that he was not involved. 

The Post said U.S. officials had expressed high confidence in the CIA assessment, which was the most definitive to date linking Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler to the killing and complicated President Donald Trump’s efforts to preserve U.S. ties with one of the closest American allies in the region. 

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the accuracy of the report, but a source familiar with U.S. intelligence assessments told Reuters U.S. government experts assessed with confidence that the crown prince had ordered the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death. The Saudi government denied the allegation. 

The White House declined to comment on the Post report, saying it was an intelligence matter. The State Department also declined to comment. 

Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for the Post, was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 when he went there to pick up documents he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman. 

Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, had resisted pressure from Riyadh for him to return home. Saudi officials have said a team of 15 Saudi nationals were sent to confront Khashoggi at the consulate and that he was accidentally killed in a chokehold by men who were trying to force him to return to the kingdom. 

Pressure on Saudis

Turkish officials have said the killing was intentional and have been pressuring Saudi Arabia to extradite those responsible to stand trial. An adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused Saudi Arabia of trying to cover up the killing. 

His remarks came after Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said he was seeking the death penalty for five suspects charged in Khashoggi’s killing. The Saudi prosecutor, Shalaan al-Shalaan, told reporters the Saudi crown prince knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and removed from the consulate. 

The Post, citing people familiar with the matter, said the CIA reached its conclusions after examining multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother, Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi. 

Khalid told Khashoggi he should go to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so, the Post said. 

The newspaper, citing people familiar with the call, said it was not clear whether Khalid knew Khashoggi would be killed but that he made the call at his brother’s direction. 

‘I never talked to him’

Khalid bin Salman said in a Twitter post on Friday that the last contact he had with Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017, nearly a year before the journalist’s death. 

“I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim,” he said in his Twitter message.  

Late US Senator McCain Honored for Defending Russian Human Rights

U.S. Sen. John McCain was posthumously given the 2018 Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Award in a ceremony in London on Thursday night. The award recognizes those who have fought for human rights in Russia and is named after a lawyer who was killed in a Moscow jail in 2009.

John McCain’s daughter Meghan accepted the award on behalf of her late father. In a speech she contrasted his legacy with what she called the “bloody-handed dictator of Russia.”

“John McCain defended and vindicated the memory of ordinary men and women with integrity, like Sergei Magnitsky. Vladimir Putin has them murdered. John McCain was a strong man. Vladimir Putin is weak man’s idea of a strong man. John McCain on his death was remembered with gratitude and praised by the nation he served and loved. Vladimir Putin knows well that the greatest risk to his own life is his own people, and that he will be remembered as a tyrant and a thief,” Meghan McCain told the audience in London.

John McCain became a prominent critic of Donald Trump’s dealings with Russian leader Putin, criticism that the U.S. president strongly rejected.

McCain died in August from brain cancer at age 81.

Several other awards were made Thursday night, including to Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, and to the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is serving a 20-year jail term in Russia.

Magnitsky was beaten to death in police custody in 2009 after investigating a $230 million tax fraud allegedly carried out by senior Russian officials.

Bill Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, employed Magnitsky to investigate the fraud. He campaigned for the U.S. to adopt the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which allows the withholding of visas and the freezing of assets of human rights offenders. John McCain was key in pushing the legislation through Congress. Several other countries have since adopted similar legislation, including Canada and Britain.

“And so starting next year, we’re not just going to honor Russian heroes, but in the spirit of the global Magnitsky Act, we’re going to honor heroes from around the world,” Browder said Thursday night.

Meanwhile this week, the United States used the Magnitsky Act to sanction 17 Saudi officials accused of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

US Denies Exploring Extradition of Turkish Cleric to Appease Ankara

The U.S. Justice Department denied it was planning to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, following a media report suggesting Washington was looking into the extradition in exchange for Ankara’s easing of its pressure on Saudi Arabia.

“The Justice Department has not been involved in nor aware of any discussions relating the extradition of Fethullah Gulen to the death of Jamal Khashoggi,” Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said.

NBC News reported Thursday that the Trump administration had been seeking ways to extradite Gulen, as a means to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ease pressure on Saudi Arabia over the killing of Saudi journalist Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last month.

Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania and denies Ankara’s accusation of involvement in a failed coup in Turkey in 2016.

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department denied any deal to extradite Gulen, but spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “We continue to evaluate the material that the Turkish government presents requesting his extradition.” 

Turkish media reported Friday that President Donald Trump spoke by phone with Erdogan, and the two men “agreed to shed light on the Jamal Khashoggi murder in all its aspects and that any cover-up of the incident should not be allowed.”

Gulen’s extradition is a top diplomatic priority for Turkey, but Ankara has dismissed any talk of a deal.

“Turkey’s pending request for Fethullah Gulen’s extradition from the United States and the investigation into Khashoggi’s murder are two separate issues. They are not connected in any way, shape or form,” said a senior Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“At no point did Turkey offer to hold back on the Khashoggi investigation in return for Fethullah Gulen’s extradition,” he added.

Analysts point out it’s doubtful Washington could make such an offer, given Gulen’s extradition is a matter for the courts, which experts say is a potentially lengthy and challenging process. Also, given that Erdogan sees the Saudi crown prince as his chief rival in the region, his goals may extend well beyond an extradition.

Trump has sought closer ties with Saudi Arabia to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East, as well as to increase arms deals between Washington and Riyadh.

VOA’s Mehmet Toroglu and Dorian Jones contributed to this report.

Russian Ambassador to Finland Summoned Over GPS Disruption 

Russian Ambassador to Finland Pavel Kuznetsov has been summoned to a meeting on Monday with Finnish state secretary Matti Anttonen over the disruption of Finland’s global positioning system (GPS) signal during recent NATO war games. 

“We don’t have anything to hide here. Disruption is a serious matter which disturbs civil aviation. We will act towards Russia, we will discuss this and we expect answers,” Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said in a statement to public broadcaster Yle while on a state visit to the United States. 

The Finnish foreign ministry said Thursday that the disruption of Finland’s GPS signal during recent NATO war games came from Russian territory. 

The Kremlin on Monday dismissed an earlier allegation from Finland that Russia may have intentionally disrupted the signal during the war games. 

Earlier in November, Finland’s air navigation services issued a warning for air traffic because of a large-scale GPS interruption in the north of the country. Russia was also recently accused by Norway, which had posted a similar warning in its own airspace. 

inland is not a NATO member but it took part as an ally in NATO’s largest exercise in decades, which ended Wednesday. 

Forces from 31 countries participated in the games close to  Russia, in an area stretching from the Baltic Sea to Iceland. 

Finland shares an 833-mile (1,340-km) border and a difficult history with Russia. 

Court Papers: US Gets Indictment Against Wikileaks’ Assange

American prosecutors have obtained a sealed indictment against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, whose website published thousands of classified U.S. government documents, a U.S. federal court document showed Thursday.

The document, which prosecutors say was filed by mistake, asks a judge to seal documents in a criminal case unrelated to Assange, and carries markings indicating it was originally filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, in August.

A source familiar with the matter said the document was initially sealed but unsealed this week for reasons that are unclear at the moment.

On Twitter, Wikileaks said it was an “apparent cut-and-paste error.”

U.S. officials had no comment on the disclosure in the document about a sealed indictment of Assange. It is unclear what charges Assange faces.

But Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the prosecutors’ office that filed the document that was unsealed, told Reuters, “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.”

Reuters was unable to immediately reach Assange or his lawyers to seek comment.

Charges confidential

Prosecutors sought to keep the charges confidential until after Assange’s arrest, the document shows, saying the move was essential to ensure he did not evade or avoid arrest and extradition in the case.

Any procedure “short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant, and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged,” the document reads.

It adds, “The complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”

U.S. officials have previously acknowledged that federal prosecutors based in Alexandria have been conducting a lengthy criminal investigation into WikiLeaks and its founder.

Calls for prosecution

Representatives of the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have publicly called for Assange to be aggressively prosecuted.

Assange and his supporters have periodically said U.S. authorities had filed secret criminal charges against him, an assertion against which some U.S. officials pushed back until recently.

Facing extradition from Britain to Sweden to be questioned in a sexual molestation case, Assange six years ago took refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy, where initially he was treated as a welcome guest.

But following a change in the government of the South American nation, Ecuadorean authorities last March began to crack down on his access to outsiders and for a time cut off his internet access.

‘Perfect Time,’ Ethical Businesses Say, to Drive Social Change

Ethically driven businesses are becoming increasingly popular and profitable but they can face threats for shaking up the existing order, entrepreneurs said on Social Enterprise Day.

When Meghan Markle wore a pair of “slave-free” jeans on a royal tour of Australia last month, she sparked a sales stampede and shone a spotlight on the growing number of companies aiming to meet public demand for ethical products.

“Right now is the perfect time to have this kind of business,” said James Bartle, founder of Australia-based Outland Denim, which made the $200 (150 pound) jeans. “There is awareness and people are prepared to spend on these kinds of products.”

Social Enterprise Day

Social Enterprise Day, which celebrates firms seeking to make profit while doing good, is being marked in 23 countries, including Australia, Nigeria, Romania and the Philippines, led by Social Enterprise UK (SEUK), which represents the sector.

Outland Denim is one such company, employing dozens of survivors of human trafficking and other vulnerable women in Cambodia to make its jeans, which all contain a written thank-you message from the seamstress on an internal pocket.

Bartle said he wanted to create a sustainable model that gives people power to change their future through employment.

More companies are striving to clean up their supply chains and stamp their goods as environmentally friendly and ethical, with women and millennials, people born between 1982 and 2000, driving the shift to products that seek to improve the world.

“For-profits create the mess, and then the not-for-profits clean it up,” said Andrew O’Brien, director of external affairs at SEUK, which estimates that 2 million British workers are employed by a social enterprise. “We are an existential threat to that system, by coming through the middle and forcing businesses to change the way they do business.”

Risky business 

Britain has the world’s largest social enterprise sector, according to the U.K. government. About 100,000 firms contribute 60 billion pounds ($76 billion) to the world’s fifth largest economy, SEUK says.

Elsewhere in the world, it can be a risky business.

“I get threats,” said Farhad Wajdi who runs Ebtakar Inspiring Entrepreneurs of Afghanistan, which helps women enter the workforce by training and providing seed money for them to operate food carts in the war-torn country. “I can’t go to the provinces.”

His work has met resistance in parts of Afghanistan, a conservative society where women rarely work outside the home.

“A social enterprise can lead to sustainable change in those communities,” Wajdi said on the sidelines of the Trust Conference in London. “It can propagate gender equality and create friction for social change at a grassroots level.”

Niche? Window dressing?

There is, however, a danger that social enterprise will remain a niche form of business or become window-dressing for firms that just want to improve their public image.

“I don’t want social enterprise to become the next (corporate social responsibility), another (public relations) move,” said Melissa Kim, the founder of Costa Rican-based Uplift Worldwide, which supports social enterprises.

“To me this is just good business, and good sustainable business is not just about the environment and human rights … if you care about your relationships internally and externally you will stay in business.”

Merkel’s Aspiring Successors Stress Common Ground in First Debate

The three candidates competing to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel as leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU) agreed on Thursday to revive their party’s fortunes by cutting taxes and reducing Germany’s dependence on the United States for defense.

In a strikingly good-humored three-hour debate in the northern city of Luebeck, the first of eight meetings with party grass roots across Germany before a leadership vote on Dec. 7, the rivals barely clashed on broad policy.

While there were different nuances on details, the three agreed to work to improve the integration of migrants, focus more on affordable housing, cut subsidies to poorer eastern states and further Merkel’s digitalization drive.

 

The race for leader of the Christian Democratic Union party has shaped up as a dual between Merkel protege Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, widely seen as the continuity option, and Friedrich Merz, a millionaire who describes himself as “a free-trade man.”

Merkel has said she will remain chancellor atop a ‘grand coalition’ with the CDU’s Bavarian sister party and Social Democrats until the end of her term in 2021.

CDU General Secretary Kramp-Karrenbauer, the front-runner, won applause for saying she would continue the process of renewal, by taking into account the views of the party base.

Former Merkel rival Merz said he aimed to take the CDU back over the 40 percent mark and halve support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), currently polling at around 16 percent. The CDU is at around 26-27 percent in most surveys.

“It is our job to do this,” he said, adding the CDU had to make clear it had not forgotten voters who felt neglected after the influx of some 1.5 million migrants since 2015.

Health Minister Jens Spahn, the third candidate and an arch-critic of Merkel’s migrant policy, said CDU policy had in part led to the rise of the AfD, now represented in all of Germany’s 16 states. “We can also get rid of them,” he said.

All three candidates promised to work with each other after the leadership election and stressed their mutual respect.

“I will not criticize the others, we will only say good things about each other … In the end, the party must be the winner,” said Merz.

An opinion poll for broadcaster ARD conducted on Monday and Tuesday showed Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as mini-Merkel, still favorite among CDU voters with 46 percent support.

The poll, released on Thursday, showed 31 percent of CDU supporters favored Friedrich Merz, returning to politics after 10 years in the private sector. Twelve percent backed Spahn.

Ex-Macedonia PM Gruevski Seeking Refugee Status in Hungary

Former Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski sought asylum at a Hungarian representation outside Macedonia before reaching Hungary earlier this week and submitting his formal application for refugee status, Budapest said on Thursday.

Gruevski, who resigned in 2016 after 10 years in power, fled his Balkan homeland six months after being sentenced to two years in prison on corruption-related charges.

Macedonian police issued an arrest warrant for him after he failed to show up to begin his sentence following a Nov. 9 court ruling against his motion for a reprieve.

Gruevski’s refugee status application could put Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a tight spot. He supported the fellow nationalist Gruevski in the run-up to Macedonia’s 2017 election and praised his party’s efforts in halting migrants passing through the Balkans northwards towards Western Europe.

A senior Hungarian official declined to say in which country Gruevski had first sought Hungarian asylum or how he later made his way to the Immigration and Asylum Office in Budapest where he submitted documents and secured a hearing.

“According to my knowledge he made a statement regarding threats to his safety … that justified that his hearing should be conducted not in a transit zone but in Budapest,” said Gergely Gulyas, Orban’s cabinet chief.

Speaking to reporters, Gulyas would not say whether the Hungarian government was involved in helping Gruevski get to Budapest or whether he arrived by land or air. He said Hungary played no role in Gruevski’s exit from Macedonia.

Police in Albania, which borders Macedonia, said later on Thursday that Gruevski had crossed Albanian territory into Montenegro to the north on Sunday evening as a passenger in an Hungarian embassy car. It was unclear whether Gruevski then transited Serbia to reach Hungary further north.

Albanian police said Interpol notified them of an arrest warrant for Gruevski only on Tuesday, when the ex-premier announced on his Facebook page that he was in Budapest and seeking asylum.

Gulyas said Budapest had not yet received an official request from Macedonia to extradite Gruevski, adding Hungary would act “in line with the laws” if that happens. He said there was an extradition agreement between the two countries.

Asked if Gruevski was being protected by Hungarian authorities, Gulyas said Budapest had applied “the appropriate security protocol”, and was assured he would not leave the country. Gruevski had not met Orban this week, he added.

On Wednesday, a Fidesz party spokesman said Gruevski was a politician who was being persecuted by Macedonia’s leftist government. Gulyas declined to comment on this.

Ukraine PM Upbeat on IMF Loan Prospects

Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman expects to get new loans from the International Monetary Fund as early as December, once parliament passes a budget of stability that refrains from making pre-election populist moves, he said Thursday.

Securing IMF assistance will also unlock loans from the World Bank and the European Union. Groysman also said Ukraine was in negotiations with Washington for a new loan guarantee for sovereign debt.

Groysman negotiated a new deal with the IMF last month aimed at keeping finances on an even keel during a choppy election period next year. The new loans are contingent on his steering an IMF-compliant budget through parliament.

“This budget is a budget of stability and continuation of reforms,” Groysman said in an interview with Reuters. “This is fully consistent with our IMF program.”

“Yes. We are counting on a tranche in December,” he added, when asked about when IMF loans were expected, though he did not elaborate on the possible size of the loan.

Ukraine’s government approved a draft budget in September but it will typically undergo a slew of amendments before parliament finally approves it. 

Tax proposal dropped

Groysman said a proposal to change how companies are taxed — on withdrawn capital, rather than profits — had been dropped from the budget because of the IMF’s concerns.

He also said he would not bow to opposition parties’ demands to reverse a recent increase in household gas tariffs, a step that his government reluctantly took to qualify for more IMF assistance.

“Populism led to the weakness of Ukraine,” he said. “This should not be allowed.” 

The IMF and Kyiv’s foreign allies came to Ukraine’s rescue after it plunged into turmoil following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and support for separatist rebels occupying the eastern industrial Donbass region. 

The United States has also sold coal to plug a domestic shortage caused by rebels taking control of mines in the east. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited Ukraine this week. 

In response to a question about whether Ukraine would continue to buy coal from the United States and potentially also liquefied natural gas, Groysman said that “liquefied gas is very interesting for Ukraine. We talked about the whole spectrum of our cooperation in the energy sector.”

As for coal, he added, “we will buy it from our international partners until we cover the domestic deficit.” 

Washington has also previously issued loan guarantees for Ukrainian debt. Groysman said another such guarantee was “under discussion.” 

Did Russia Violate Navalny’s Rights? European Court to Rule

Russia is awaiting a European court ruling on whether it violated the rights of opposition leader Alexei Navalny when arresting him on repeated occasions.

A leading critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Navalny is to appear at the European Court of Human Rights in the French city of Strasbourg to hear the ruling Thursday, after a last-minute legal problem delayed his arrival.

The court ruled last year that seven of his arrests were unlawful and ordered Russia to pay 63,000 euros ($67,000) in compensation. But the court didn’t rule on Navalny’s arguments that the arrests were politically motivated.

The Russian government and Navalny appealed, and the case went to the court’s Grand Chamber, which issues its final, binding ruling later Thursday.

Article 18

Navalny, arguably Russia’s most popular opposition figure, has faced fraud charges widely viewed as political retribution for investigating corruption and leading major anti-government protests.

Navalny mounted a grass-roots presidential campaign before he was officially barred from running in this year’s election, which Putin overwhelmingly won.

Navalny’s lawyer Olga Mikhailova told The Associated Press that the legal team is most concerned with whether the court finds that Russian authorities violated Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights, effectively meaning the arrests were politically motivated.

Navalny says that would set an important precedent for activists across Russia who have faced challenges in staging public rallies.

Russia: Arrests justified

The Kremlin routinely dismisses Navalny as a trouble-maker with no political backing. Russia’s representative to the ECHR, deputy justice minister Mikhail Galperin, argued during a hearing earlier this year that Navalny’s arrests were all justified and that his unauthorized rallies put public security at risk. He suggested Navalny staged his arrests to get media attention.

Russia is obliged to carry out the court’s rulings as a member of the Council of Europe, the continent’s human rights watchdog. However, Russia has delayed implementing past rulings from the court and argued that it is encroaching on Russian judicial sovereignty.

About a third of the court’s cases last year involved Russia, and of 305 judgments concerning Russia in 2017, 293 found at least one rights violation.