Saudi corruption purge seizes $106bn; Putin sees US 'hostile step'


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  • Saudi corruption drive nets billions – Saudi Arabia made an estimated $106bn in settlements since its anti-corruption crackdown in November 2017, said the kingdom’s attorney general. The campaign, led by crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, involved the arrests of around 500 prominent figures, including billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. In recent days, Talal was released from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh where he was detained after a state-approved financial settlement. (Read WikiTribune‘s Making sense of what’s happening in Saudi Arabia here.)
  •  “Snooper’s charter” ruled illegal – UK appeal court judges dictated that the country’s mass digital surveillance program is unlawful, according to The Guardian. The legal challenge was brought by the deputy leader of the UK’s Labour Party, Tom Watson. Three appeal court judges said that some powers in the 2014 Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, which paved the way for the digital surveillance program enshrined in the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act, also known as the Snooper’s Charter, was “inconsistent with EU law.” Human rights campaign group Liberty, which represented Watson in the case, said the ruling meant that the Snooper’s Charter must be modified immediately.

  • Putin calls U.S. list a “hostile step” – Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the the U.S. Treasury Department’s decision to publish a list of Russian political and business leaders it says has close relations with the Kremlin was a “hostile step” that would further complicate relations between the two countries. But Putin said his administration was not currently planning to retaliate. The report, published on January 29, names 96 Russian “oligarchs” and 114 political figures “determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth.” It comes as part of the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, and is not a sanctions list – although some of the people on the list have had U.S. sanctions imposed on them. However, Reuters reports that the list does raise the possibility of future wide-ranging sanctions against Russia’s business elite. Among the 96 business figures, whom the report specifically refers to as “oligarchs,” are Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich and Herman Gref, CEO of state-controlled Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender. (Read Fighting kleptocracy in London, a global capital for dirty money here.)

  • Syrian government arsenal linked to sarin attacks – Laboratory tests have for the first time connected the Syrian government’s chemical arsenal to several sarin gas attacks that killed hundreds of civilians during the country’s civil war. An exclusive Reuters report, based on diplomatic and scientific sources, says that laboratories working for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found chemical “markers” that linked the sarin attacks in Ghouta – the deadliest gas attack of the Syrian civil war – and two other towns to chemicals surrendered by Damascus as part of a deal brokered by the United States and Russia in 2014. It also says investigators found proof of an ongoing chemical weapons program in Syria. Damascus denies using chemical weapons and blames the Ghouta attack on rebels. (Read and contribute to WikiTribune’s explainer of the situation in northern Syria, and the groups involved.)
  • Every Brexit scenario would damage UK – A leaked analysis of the impact of the UK exiting the European Union drafted by the UK’s Department for Exiting the European Union says Brexit would negatively impact the country under every projected scenario, Buzzfeed News reveals. The leaked report is significant because a year and a half after the June 2016 referendum, the UK government has failed to make publicly available any assessment of how Brexit might affect the country. The “EU Exit Analysis – Cross Whitehall Briefing” took the three most likely Brexit scenarios and concluded that over the next 15 years, UK growth would be reduced between 2 and 8 percent, depending on the final Brexit deal. (Read WikiTribune’s full Brexit coverage here.)
  • Irish voters to decide on abortion in May – Ireland will hold a referendum in late May to determine whether to reform the country’s almost complete ban on abortions by repealing the constitutional amendment that bans them, the country’s government has said. Current abortion law in Ireland dictates that pregnancies can only be terminated if the woman’s life is at risk, but forbids it in the case of rape, incest, or lethal fetal abnormalities. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar says he will campaign for reform. An exact date for the referendum is subject to a debate in the Irish parliament.

What we’re reading

  • In 1860, slave smugglers burned the ship to hide their crime, and since then, the whereabouts of the Clotilda’s remains have only been a rumor. However, relying on historical records and accounts from Alabama locals, AL.com may have located the long-lost wreck of the Clotilda, the last slave ship to bring human cargo to the United States. – Charles Anderson
  • To mark the centenary of some women getting the vote in Britain in 1918, Helen Lewis of British political magazine The New Statesman, asked 100 politicians, campaigners, and other prominent women about their experiences of politics in the past, and where they believe we should go next in the The Guardian. – Lydia Morrish

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