Assange’s Russian visitors
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange used the Ecuadorean Embassy in London as his command center to conspire with Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, according to an Ecuadorean government report obtained by CNN. Holed up in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, Assange met with numerous Kremlin-linked Russians and top hackers in the summer of 2016—just days before WikiLeaks released a trove of embarrassing emails and documents stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Embassy security reports and visitor logs showed that Assange’s guests included Nikolay Bogachikhin—the London bureau chief of the Kremlin-controlled RT television network—who handed the WikiLeaks boss a USB drive. Assange also met repeatedly with German hacker Andrew Müller-Maguhn. In his report on Russian election interference, special counsel Robert Mueller said that Müller-Maguhn “may have assisted” Russian spy-service hackers with the transfer of stolen documents to WikiLeaks.
The report, compiled by Spanish security company UC Global for the Ecuadorean government, concluded there was “no doubt” that Assange had ties to Russian intelligence. Assange was booted from the embassy in April; he is now serving a one-year prison sentence in the U.K. for skipping bail and is fighting extradition to the U.S. for allegedly helping former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal Pentagon war logs and secret diplomatic cables. Assange has always denied working for the Kremlin. During the final weeks of the campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump cited the stolen emails dozens of times, proclaiming, “I love WikiLeaks!”
Looting the state
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is propping up his regime by selling off the country’s gold reserves. Over the past three months, the authoritarian leader has skirted U.S. sanctions by hawking some 24 tons of gold to firms in places such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, draining Venezuela’s dollar reserves to a near-three-decade low of $8.1 billion. U.S. sanctions have largely isolated Venezuela from the global financial system. Maduro’s regime asked Moscow this week if it could join an independent banking system Russia has set up that bypasses the Belgium-based, international financial-messaging system known as SWIFT.
The bishop of Buenaventura rode a fire truck festooned with balloons through his home city this week, flicking holy water at residents in an attempt to exorcise the demons that he believes are responsible for an epidemic of crime and violence. Monsignor Rubén Dario Jaramillo Montoya had originally hoped to conduct the ritual by helicopter, but that plan fell through. Rival gangs are battling for control of the drug trade in Buenaventura’s main Pacific port, which has caused a spike in murders and kidnappings. The Catholic prelate said he wanted to “drive the devil out of Buenaventura, to see if we can restore the peace and tranquility that our city has lost.”
Extremists with a missile
Italian police last week seized a cache of military-grade weapons, including an air-to-air missile, as part of a yearlong investigation into Italians who fought alongside Russian-backed forces in Ukraine. Authorities arrested three men with suspected ties to the far right. Swiss citizen Alessandro Monti and Italian Fabio Bernardi were charged with possessing and trying to sell a 540-pound Matra missile. Fabio Del Bergiolo, a former Senate candidate for the neofascist Forza Nuova party, is accused of arranging to sell the weapon. Police found a cache of assault rifles and pistols in Del Bergiolo’s home, as well as a collection of Nazi paraphernalia. Del Bergiolo’s lawyer said his client was simply a “weapons enthusiast.”
Bolsonaro son to Washington?
Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, is considering emulating his idol, President Trump, by appointing one of his children to a top government post. Bolsonaro said last week that he might name his 35-year-old son, Eduardo—a former police officer turned congressman—Brazil’s ambassador to the U.S. “He’s friends with Donald Trump’s children, speaks English and Spanish, and has great experience in the world,” explained Bolsonaro. The announcement caused outrage among the opposition, but Eduardo said he would accept the ambassadorship if offered, arguing he was qualified for the post because as a youth he’d spent time flipping burgers in the U.S. Like Ivanka Trump, Eduardo is seen as a sort of unofficial foreign minister, often appearing alongside his father on state visits.
U.S. scientist murdered
A 27-year-old Greek farmer has confessed to the rape and murder of Suzanne Eaton, an American molecular biologist whose body was found in an abandoned World War II bunker on Crete last week. Eaton, 59, was attending a scientific conference on the island and disappeared after going out for a hike. The unnamed suspect was arrested days after police obtained DNA evidence from nearly a dozen people who lived near the crime scene. Police said the suspect confessed that he saw Eaton walking and, “motivated by sexual satisfaction,” struck her twice with his car. He put the unconscious scientist in his trunk and drove to the bunker, where he raped and choked her to death. Eaton, who worked at the Max Planck Institute at Dresden University in Germany, is survived by her husband and two children.
Migrant center hell
The United Nations this week called for all 24 migrant detention centers in Libya to be closed and for the European Union to revisit its agreement with the North African nation, under which Libyan authorities are paid to detain migrants trying to reach Europe by sea. An errant airstrike earlier this month by a rebel group fighting pro-government forces killed 53 people at one detention facility, and U.N. officials say conditions at the camps—which house some 6,000 people, mostly Sudanese, Somalis, and Eritreans—are appalling. “Those interned there, mainly refugees, keep dying of diseases and hunger,” said Julien Raickmann of Doctors Without Borders. “They are victims of violence, rape, and arbitrary treatment at the hands of militias.”
A gorgeous turquoise lake that thousands of Siberians have been using as a backdrop for their Instagram photos is full of toxic waste, environmentalists have warned. Nicknamed the Siberian Maldives by locals, the lake contains runoff from an industrial dump site. The water gets its color from a chemical reaction among waste elements from the local coal-burning power station. Environmentalist Dmitry Shakhov said the water could cause allergic reactions or even chemical burns if ingested or touched. “This water is saturated with heavy metals and harmful substances,” he said. The Siberian Generating Co. said the lake poses no danger, but added that it has stationed guards to keep trespassers out.
Protests rage on
Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers took to the streets again this week to demand officials kill a bill that would let residents of the semi-autonomous city be extradited to mainland China to face trial in secretive courts. Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said the bill is “dead” but has not withdrawn it. Tensions in the city are high, and a peaceful anti-government rally ended in a brawl when riot police entered a mall where demonstrators had gathered. Protesters threw plastic bottles and umbrellas, and officers used pepper spray and pummeled them with batons. Lam, who reports to Beijing, has offered to quit, but Chinese authorities do not have a replacement and will not accept her resignation.
Ex-premier’s expensive tastes
The trial of Malaysia’s disgraced former prime minister, Najib Razak, is bringing to light his outrageous spending habits, including his blowing more than $800,000 in an Italian jewelry store in a single day in 2014. Najib, who was ousted last year, is on trial for corruption, abuse of power, and misuse of funds associated with 1MDB, a state-owned investment firm he established. On Najib’s watch, some $4 billion was embezzled from the fund, about $680 million of which allegedly went to Najib and his wife. The alleged mastermind of the theft, Malaysian businessman Jho Low, is a fugitive, believed to be in China.
Point of no return: NATO member Turkey received its first delivery of an advanced Russian air defense system last week, in defiance of the U.S. and other alliance members. In response, the U.S. prohibited Turkey from buying American F-35 fighter jets, fearing that the Russian engineers who set up the S-400 system would be able to learn about the F-35’s vulnerabilities. Announcing the ban, President Trump said he sympathized with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the “very tough situation” he was in, and incorrectly blamed the Obama administration for failing to sell U.S.-made Patriot missile batteries to Turkey. Washington had worked to sell Patriots to Ankara since 2013, but ultimately rejected Turkey’s technology-transfer demands. The Trump administration is now legally required to place sanctions on Turkey; at the G-20 summit in Japan last month, Erdogan said, Trump had assured him that he wouldn’t implement the sanctions.
Newscom (2), Reuters, AP, Reuters ■