Greece backs extradition of Russian to US over bitcoin fraud


A Russian man identified as Alexander Vinnik, left, is escorted by police officers as he arrives to the courthouse at the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

THESSALONIKI, Greece — A Greek court ruled Wednesday to extradite Russian cybercrime suspect Alexander Vinnik to the United States, where he is wanted in connection with a $4 billion bitcoin fraud case.

The three-member panel of judges backed the U.S. extradition request for the 37-year-old, who was arrested while on vacation in northern Greece on July 25. Soon after the decision, Vinnik’s lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court on behalf of their client.

Russia is also seeking Vinnik’s extradition on separate fraud charges, but no date has yet been set for that hearing.

While fighting his extradition to the U.S., Vinnik’s lawyers said he would not contest the Russian request.

“We have not seen the formal decision and we’ll wait for it to come out before making comment,” Vinnik’s lawyer Alexandros Lykourezos said.

“We have taken immediate action and appealed the ruling and the case will be examined by the criminal division of the Supreme Court.”

U.S. authorities accuse Vinnik of running digital currency exchange BTC-e and of involvement in laundering money from criminal proceeds, charges he denies.

Speaking during Wednesday’s hearing, Vinnik repeated that he had nothing to do with the digital platform he is accused of running to commit the bitcoin fraud. He said he was merely a technician and the platform was one of his clients.

“I have nothing to do with what I am accused of,” he told the judges.

Vinnik said electronic equipment confiscated during his arrest was not related to his job, and that the laptop seized by police contained only cartoons for his children.




Facebook to turn over to Congress Russia-linked ads


A sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

WASHINGTON — Social media giant Facebook is expected to provide Congress on Monday with more than 3,000 ads that ran around the time of the 2016 presidential election and are linked to a Russian ad agency.

Company officials will meet with the House and Senate intelligence committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee to hand over the ads, a Facebook official said. The official requested anonymity because the meetings are private.

Facebook said last month that that it had found thousands of ads linked to Facebook accounts that likely operated out of Russia and pushed divisive social and political issues during the U.S. presidential election. The company said it found 450 accounts and about $100,000 was spent on the ads.

Twitter has said it found postings linked to those same accounts, and the House and Senate intelligence panels have asked both companies, along with Google, to testify publicly in the coming weeks.

None of the companies have said whether they will accept the invitations.

The three committees are investigating Russian meddling in the election and whether there are any links to President Donald Trump’s campaign. They have recently focused on the spread of false news stories and propaganda on social media, putting pressure on the companies to turn over more information and release any Russia-linked ads.

It is unclear whether the ads will eventually be released publicly. Several lawmakers — including Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel — have said they believe the American public should see them.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Sept. 21 that the company would provide the ads to Congress and also make changes to ensure the political ads on its platform are more transparent. The company is also working with special counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation into the Russian meddling.

“As a general rule, we are limited in what we can discuss publicly about law enforcement investigations, so we may not always be able to share our findings publicly,” Zuckerberg said. “But we support Congress in deciding how to best use this information to inform the public, and we expect the government to publish its findings when their investigation is complete.”

Facebook said the ads addressed social and political issues and ran in the United States between 2015 and 2017. The company said the ads appear to have come from accounts associated with a Russian entity called the Internet Research Agency.

Twitter said last week that it had suspended 22 accounts corresponding to the 450 Facebook accounts that were likely operated out of Russia.

Warner criticized Twitter for not sharing more information with Congress, saying the company’s findings were merely “derivative” of Facebook’s work. The company’s presentations to staff last week “showed an enormous lack of understanding from the Twitter team of how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions,” he said.




5 found guilty in Russian opposition leader’s murder

By Nataliya Vasilyeva

MOSCOW — A Moscow jury convicted five men on Thursday in the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on a bridge near the Kremlin two years ago, ending a nine-month trial that his supporters said had failed to bring the true masterminds of slaying to justice.

The brazen killing so close to Red Square sent shockwaves through the Russian opposition, which had looked to Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, as a rare figure in a position to negotiate with authorities.

After two days of deliberations the jury at a Moscow court on Thursday found the suspected triggerman Zaur Dadayev, a former officer in the security forces of Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, guilty of murdering Nemtsov. Four other men were convicted of involvement in the killing.

In this Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 file photo Russian police investigate the lifeless body of Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister and opposition leader just off Red Square, with St. Basil Cathidral in the background, in Moscow, Russia. (Pavel Golovkin, File/AP)

Prosecutors said the four men were accomplices who helped obtain the murder weapons and transported the shooter to the crime scene. Investigators said they never established who ordered the politician’s assassination.

Prosecutors are expected to announce the sentences they are seeking at a hearing next week.

Nemtsov, a top political opponent of President Vladimir Putin, was shot late at night on Feb. 27, 2015 as he was walking across the bridge just outside the Kremlin. The images of his dead body lying on the sidewalk with the domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral towering behind sent a chilling message to many in the opposition, who had faced persecution and arrests, just how precarious their position was.

Ilya Yashin, Nemtsov’s close ally, echoed that sentiment, speaking to reporters after the verdict was delivered on Thursday:

“Political murders in Russia will continue if the masterminds of this attack are able to get away with this.”

The site on the Bolshoy Moskovetsky Bridge where Nemtsov was killed has become a shrine, with candles, fresh flowers and framed photos of the politician set on the sidewalk where he fell.

Following Putin’s call for a full probe, investigators quickly tracked down several people linked to the killing, all of them from Chechnya. The suspected triggerman was an officer in Kadyrov’s much-feared security force, and his suspected liaison, another senior officer in the Chechen police, was a relative of some of Kadyrov’s top lieutenants.

Despite the mounting pressure to investigate Kadyrov’s role in the killing, Putin stood by him and the investigation has fizzled. Key suspects have disappeared and reportedly have been whisked abroad, and the investigators have failed to name the organizers.

Nemtsov’s allies and family have criticized Russia’s Investigative Committee, which investigates high-profile crimes, for stopping short of studying a possible role of Kadyrov and top Chechen officers.

When the now-convicted gunman, former officer Dadayev, was arrested shortly after the killing, Kadyrov vehemently defended him as a “true patriot.”

Nemtsov’s allies squarely blame the murder on Kadyrov who has been accused of numerous human rights violations including torture and killings, saying that the officers could not possibly have acted without his explicit orders. Kadyrov denied any role in the assassination.

Nemtsov’s eldest daughter, Zhanna Nemtsova, said in a Facebook post after the verdict was announced on Thursday that “the case remains unsolved.”

“Investigators and the court clearly did not want to uncover the truth about this crime,” Nemtsova said, noting that no high-profile Chechen officials were even questioned. “There was only one task: find the triggerman and hold a trial. They did just that. But we will continue to fight for the truth by any means we have.”

Nemtsov’s family petitioned investigators to look into Kadyrov’s possible involvement and to question Ruslan Geremeyev, commander of the police unit in which Dadayev served.

The commander was summoned to testify, but he failed to show up. Investigators told the court last year that they visited Geremeyev’s property in Chechnya but “no one opened the door.”

Dadayev and the other men confessed soon after they were arrested. They later retracted their confessions, saying they had been tortured.

Asked if the investigation into Nemtsov’s killing should be resumed, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies Thursday evening that “this is not the Kremlin’s issue.”

___

Dmitry Kozlov contributed to this report.




Trump confirms he’s under investigation

President Donald Trump walks with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster from the Oval Office to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 16, 2017, for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., then onto Miami. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump confirmed Friday he is under federal investigation and appeared to single out a senior Justice Department official for criticism, underscoring his growing frustration with the persistent focus on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possibly his campaign.

“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” the president wrote.

The morning missive appeared to refer to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. Last month, Rosenstein sent a memo to Trump raising concerns over FBI Director James Comey – concerns the White House then cited as a central reason for Comey’s firing.

Days after Comey was abruptly ousted, Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Mueller also has expansive powers to investigate any matters that develop from his initial investigation.

It was unclear whether the president’s comment confirming he was under investigation was based on direct knowledge or media reports that Mueller is examining whether the president obstructed justice by firing Comey. Still, the snowballing investigation has deeply angered Trump, who denies he has any nefarious ties to Russia. He’s increasingly focused his anger at both Rosenstein and Mueller, according to advisers and confidants, viewing the two as part of a biased effort to undermine his presidency.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she was “increasingly concerned” that Trump will fire both Mueller and Rosenstein.

“The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn’t apply to him and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired,” Feinstein said. “That’s undemocratic on its face and a blatant violation of the president’s oath of office.”

Rosenstein took over the Russia probe soon after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. But Rosenstein, too, may ultimately have to hand off oversight of the probe given his own role in Comey’s firing.

Earlier this month, Rosenstein told The Associated Press that “if anything that I did winds up being relevant to his investigation then, as Director Mueller and I discussed, if there’s a need from me to recuse, I will.”

Trump’s tweets come after the top lawyer for his transition team warned the organization’s officials to preserve all records and other materials related to the Russia probe. An official of Trump’s transition confirmed the lawyer’s internal order, which was sent Thursday.

The transition official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss post-election decisions publicly.

The order by the general counsel for the transition team casts a wide net on documents that could shed light on ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and representatives of Russia’s government. The order also covers separate inquiries into several key Trump associates including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, campaign adviser Paul Manafort, foreign policy aide Carter Page and outside adviser Roger Stone.

The White House has directed questions for details to outside legal counsel, which has not responded.

Vice President Mike Pence has also hired a private lawyer to represent his interests in the expanding probe. Pence headed the Trump transition until Inauguration Day.

The transition official said the organization has also separately asked the General Services Administration to preserve records from the Trump transition that were transferred to its facilities after the inauguration. The transition, a nonprofit structurally separate from the Trump campaign, continues to operate with a small staff.

The memo sent Thursday asks for records related to foreign travel, contacts with Russian “officials, agents or nationals” and background investigations into the top Trump associates now targeted by Mueller’s probe. The memo asks for preservation of electronic communications and data, telephone logs, audio recordings, videos, calendars and other items.

Friday’s tweets are the latest in a week of angry social media responses by the president after a report by The Washington Post that Mueller was looking into whether Trump obstructed justice.

“Why is that Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?” he asked at one point.

“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” Trump wrote in his first tweet. “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people! #MAGA.”




Russian event urges new look at Syria’s ‘liberated’ Aleppo

By Jamey Keaten

GENEVA — Some 25,000 Christians have returned to eastern Aleppo, Russia’s ambassador in Geneva told a conference organized by his country to highlight the devastated Syrian city’s steps toward returning to normal six months after rebel fighters were ousted by Russian-backed troops. The international Red Cross went even further, estimating that some 80,000 people total have returned.

The Russian conference, “Aleppo: A city free from terror. New life, new hopes,” took place Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council just as the International Committee for the Red Cross across the street released a new report with a decidedly different theme: “I saw my city die” — referring to Aleppo as well as Iraq’s Mosul and Taiz in Yemen.

In this file picture taken Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 from the balcony of the Abdul-Hamid Khatib home, people walk through mounds of rubble which used to be high rise apartment buildings in the once rebel-held Ansari neighborhood in the eastern Aleppo, Syria. (Hassan Ammar, File/AP)

The Russian event, where panelists variously decried propaganda, fake news and the alleged slant of “mainstream media” in the West about Syria, exemplified a painstaking Russian effort to generate another narrative about the country’s war that has left at least 400,000 people dead and driven over 12 million people from their homes. The ICRC event more broadly pointed to how urban areas have increasingly become the locus of deadly wars and fighting in the world’s most intractable recent conflicts.

The Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, which counts Russia as perhaps its biggest military and diplomatic backer, stands accused by the United Nations and human rights organizations and witnesses of systematically bombing hospitals in eastern Aleppo during its massive bombing campaign, killing dozens of medics over the years.

At its presentation, Russia highlighted the medical relief that its own military teams have been helping provide on the ground in Aleppo.

Ambassador Alexey Borodavkin cited the return figures from local Christian leaders, but didn’t specify where they had come from or why other religious groups went unmentioned. Syria’s ambassador in Geneva, Hussam Aala, insisted “many more” than that had returned to eastern Aleppo from other parts of Syria, but he did not elaborate.

Ingy Sedky, spokeswoman for ICRC Syria, said her organization estimated some 80,000 had returned — many of whom had fled to the western side of the city that has long been in government control.

The Russian event aimed, in their view, to set the record straight about Aleppo and appeal for greater support from Western nations. Speakers said the West had once been very vocal about helping the people of Aleppo but have grown quieter since Syrian troops backed by Russian and Iranian forces recaptured all of Aleppo.

“In fact, this event is very important because it is coming at a time where those who were making noise only a few months ago about the situation in Aleppo and the suffering of people in Aleppo are totally ignoring now – deliberately ignoring – the needs of the people of Aleppo,” Aala said from the audience, praising Russia’s role.

Borodavkin insisted that the “terrorists” — such as al-Qaida’s Syria affi’aliate and its allies — were the ones who destroyed homes, businesses and hospitals in Aleppo: “It was not the Russian and Syrian air force who did that.”

Russian air power was instrumental in helping President Bashar Assad’s forces to regain the city.

The ambassador refused to answer on the record when asked about allegations by some diplomats and others that the Russian presentation in Geneva smacked of propaganda itself.

During the two-hour presentation on U.N. premises, Russian organizers arranged a video uplink with several people in eastern Aleppo — set before its rubble-strewn Old City — including the regional governor and Omran Daqneesh, a young boy who became an emblem of violence in Aleppo last year, and his father.

The presentation included images of Russian medics helping the injured and video shot by unmanned aircraft of the evacuation of eastern Aleppo under an internationally-brokered accord late last year.

As the boy waved to the camera, Russian diplomat and conference mediator Maria Khodynskaya quipped: “Yes, Omran was a little bit bored but, anyway, he’s too small to understand what propaganda is.”




Senate approves sanctions bill to punish Russia for meddling

By Richard Lardner

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Republican-led Senate voted decisively to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 election by approving a wide-ranging sanctions package that targets key sectors of Russia’s economy and individuals who carried out cyber attacks.

Senators on Wednesday passed the bipartisan sanctions legislation 97-2, underscoring broad support among Republicans and Democrats for rebuking Russia after U.S. intelligence agencies determined Moscow had deliberately interfered in the presidential campaign. Lawmakers who backed the measure also cited Russia’s aggression in Syria and Ukraine.

Despite Russia’s bellicosity, there’s been no forceful response from President Donald Trump. The president has instead sought to improve relations with Moscow and rejected the implication that Russian hacking of Democratic emails tipped the election his way.

Russian President Vladimir Putin walks along the Cathedral Square of the Kremlin, to take part in a holiday reception in Moscow, Monday, June 12, 2017. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “brazen attack on our democracy is a flagrant demonstration of his disdain and disrespect for our nation,” Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said ahead of the vote.

“But in the last eight months, what price has Russia paid for attacking American democracy?” McCain said.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered tepid support for the sanctions measure, telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee he agreed “with the sentiment” among lawmakers that Russia must be held accountable for its meddling in the election.

But Tillerson urged Congress to make the sanctions legislation doesn’t tie the president’s hands and shut down promising avenues of communication between the two former Cold War foes. He asked lawmakers “to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation.”

If the Trump administration decides to oppose the new sanctions, they could be in a bind. The sanctions measure has been attached to a bill imposing penalties on Iran that the Senate is currently debating and which also has strong bipartisan support. So the White House would have to reject stricter punishments against Iran, which it favors, in order to derail the parts of the legislation it may object to.

Once the Iran bill is passed, the legislation moves to the House for action.

The leaders of the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations committees announced late Monday that they’d reached an agreement on the sanctions package after intensive negotiations.

The deal was forged amid the firestorm over investigations into Moscow’s possible collusion with members of Trump’s campaign. House and Senate committees are investigating Russia’s meddling and potential links to the Trump campaign. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a separate probe.

The measure calls for strengthening current sanctions and imposing new ones on a broad range of people, including Russians engaged in corruption, individuals in human rights abuses and anyone supplying weapons to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Broad new sanctions would be imposed on Russia’s mining, metals, shipping and railways sectors.

The measure would punish individuals who conduct what the senators described as “conducting malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government.” Also covered by the sanctions are people doing business with Russian intelligence and defense agencies.

The package also would require a congressional review if a president attempts to ease or end current penalties. The review mechanism was styled after 2015 legislation pushed by Republicans and approved overwhelmingly in the Senate that gave Congress a vote on whether Obama could lift sanctions against Iran. That measure reflected Republican complaints that Obama had overstepped the power of the presidency and needed to be checked by Congress.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, said the Senate has finally confronted Russia.

“This bipartisan amendment is the sanctions regime that the Kremlin deserves for its actions,” Shaheen said.




Thousands protest across Russia; opposition leader arrested

Police detain a protester during a demonstration in downtown Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 12, 2017.  (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

MOSCOW – Thousands of people took part in anti-corruption protests across Russia on Monday in a new show of defiance by an opposition that the Kremlin had once written off as ineffectual and marginalized.

Hundreds were arrested, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was seized outside his Moscow residence while on his way to an unsanctioned rally in the city center. Arrests continued in the capital throughout the afternoon, although there were no immediate figures on how many were detained.

In St. Petersburg, an Associated Press reporter counted about 500 people forced into police buses.

Demonstrations of several hundred to more than 2,000 were reported in cities across the sprawling country, from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in the far northeast to Russia’s European heartland.

The demonstrators appeared to skew predominantly younger – those who were born or grew up during Vladimir Putin’s 17 years of leading Russia. Similar crowds turned out on March 26, rattling officials who had perceived the younger generation as largely apolitical.

Although it was not immediately clear if Monday’s protests were larger in aggregate than the March demonstrations, the rallies underlined the deep dismay with the government. Putin is expected to seek another term in 2018, and Navalny has already announced his intentions to run.

With opposition sentiment strong or even growing, authorities appear to be casting about for a strategy to undermine the opposition without provoking higher animosity.

Moscow officials had agreed to allow Navalny’s rally, but late Sunday, he called for a different location, saying official interference had prevented contractors from erecting a stage at the agreed-upon venue.

“This is not our decision. This is the Kremlin’s decision,” he declared.

Instead, he urged demonstrators to gather on Tverskaya Street, a main Moscow avenue that was closed to traffic for a celebration of the national Russia Day holiday that included people dressed up in various costumes from the country’s history.

At one point, some demonstrators climbed atop a tent that was part of the festivities as men dressed like Russian medieval warriors looked on.

Navalny, who faces a possible 15-day jail sentence on charges of disobeying police, rose to prominence for detailed open-source investigations into government corruption. That was a key issue for protesters Monday, particularly his report on vast wealth allegedly acquired by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

“We are against the corruption that is costing the future of our young people,” said Moscow protester Maria Badyrova.

Alexei Borsenko, a Vladivostok demonstrator who eluded a police attempt to detain him, cited Iceland’s prime minister stepping down in the fallout from the “Panama Papers” scandal, while “our prime minister is caught on such big corruption cases and he doesn’t go anywhere.”

“This is very strange,” Borsenko added. “It’s a dead end for the country’s development.”

But the popular anger has spread beyond Medvedev, with many of Monday’s demonstrators chanting: “Putin is a thief.”

Navalny was jailed for 15 days after the March protests. In April, he suffered damage to an eye after an attacker doused his face with a green antiseptic liquid.




Modest gains, led by banks, push US stock indexes higher

John Panin, center, works with fellow traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (Richard Drew/AP)

ALEX VEIGA
AP Business Writer

Financial companies led U.S. stock indexes higher Thursday, nudging the Nasdaq composite index to a record high.

The latest gains came as the stock market continued to trade mostly in a narrow range in the absence of major new economic data and ahead of next week’s meeting of Federal Reserve policymakers.

Speculation that the Fed will raise interest rates helped boost financial stocks for the second day in a row. Higher interest rates allow banks and credit card issuers to charge more for loans, which boosts profits.

Utilities and consumer goods companies were among the biggest decliners. Energy stocks also fell as crude oil prices declined.

“(Today) is a continuation of fairly muted market action,” Bill Northey, chief investment officer at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “We’ve been in a very low volatility period of time. We’re also a bit between material economic events.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 0.65 points, or 0.03 percent, to 2,433.79. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 8.84 points, or 0.04 percent, to 21,182.53. Both indexes remain slightly below their record highs set last Friday.

The Nasdaq added 24.38 points, or 0.4 percent, to 6,321.76. Small-company stocks fared better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index climbed 18.94 points, or 1.4 percent, to 1,415.61.

Bond prices fell. The 10-year Treasury yield rose to 2.19 percent from 2.18 percent late Wednesday.

Stocks wavered between small gains and losses through much of the day as investors tuned in to watch former FBI Director James Comey testify before Congress as part of the investigation into Russian meddling into the U.S. presidential election.

In his testimony, Comey’s first public statements since his May 9 dismissal, he told Congress that President Donald Trump’s administration spread “lies” about him and the FBI after his abrupt firing in May.

Stock indexes barely budged throughout the hearing, the public portion of which wrapped around midday.

“Today did not turn into a market event, nor did it accelerate the path toward further progress on the legislative and administrative agenda,” Northey said.

Investors have been looking for more progress out of the White House on its agenda to cut taxes, increase infrastructure spending and implement other business-friendly policies.

The Republican-led House took steps Thursday to advance Trump’s pledge to ease regulations on businesses by taking a vote on legislation that would undo the stricter banking rules that took effect after the devastating 2008 financial crisis. That helped lift bank stocks.

Goldman Sachs Group picked up $2.98, or 1.4 percent, to $218.76. JPMorgan Chase added $1.04, or 1.2 percent, to $84.95. Regions Financial gained 44 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $14.03.

Traders also welcomed news that members of the Nordstrom family are considering taking the company private.

Like Macy’s and other big department store chains, Nordstrom has struggled to cope with competition from online retailers. The company, which has 354 stores in the U.S. and Canada, has seen its stock tumble by half since early 2015. On Thursday, the stock soared $4.15, or 10.3 percent, to $44.63.

Several companies that reported improved earnings or outlooks also traded higher.

Verint Systems rose 3.2 percent after the maker of software for analyzing intercepted communications had a strong first quarter. The stock added $1.35 to $43.45.

Investors cheered Alibaba Group Holding’s latest revenue forecast. Shares in the Chinese e-commerce company gained $16.70, or 13.3 percent, to $142.34.

Some companies failed to impress traders.

Urban Outfitters slid 10.3 percent after the retailer said sales at older stores are running lower than expected this month. That followed weak sales in May. The stock shed $1.88 to $16.35.

Benchmark U.S. crude wavered for much of the day before sliding 8 cents to settle at $45.64 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 20 cents to close at $47.86 per barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline held steady at $1.49 per gallon. Heating oil rose 1 cent to $1.42 per gallon. Natural gas added 1 cent to $3.03 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The dollar rose to 109.94 yen from Wednesday’s 109.83 yen. The euro weakened to $1.1222 from $1.1252.

In metals trading, gold fell $13.70, or 1.1 percent, to $1,279.50 per ounce. Silver lost 21 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $17.41 per ounce. Copper gained 6 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $2.61 per pound.

European stock markets were mixed after the European Central Bank kept its stimulus program unchanged. ECB President Mario Draghi said Thursday that risks to the European economic recovery have diminished. Germany’s DAX rose 0.3 percent, while France’s CAC 40 slipped 0.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.4 percent as Britain went to the polls in a general election.

In Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 0.3 percent, while South Korea’s Kospi edged up 0.2 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.3 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent.




Putin visits France, hopes to mend strained ties with West

VERSAILLES, France — On a visit likely to shape Russia-France ties for years, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin at the sumptuous Palace of Versailles on Monday for what the newly-elected French leader said would be “demanding” talks on Syria, the Ukrainian crisis and other thorny issues driving the rift between Russia and the West.

The leaders’ first handshakes — relatively brief and cordial — after Putin climbed out of his limousine at Versailles were far less macho than Macron’s now famous who-will-blink-first handshake showdown with President Donald Trump when the two leaders met for the first time last week.

Monday’s visit offered Putin and Macron a chance to reset a relationship that got off on a less-than-ideal foot during Macron’s presidential campaign. Macron had strong words for Russia in his race for the presidency, saying France and Russia don’t share the same values. Putin bet — wrongly — on Macron’s far-right opponent Marine Le Pen, hosting her at the Kremlin in March, before Macron then handily beat her.

Macron is the first Western leader to speak to Putin after the Group of Seven summit over the weekend, where relations with Russia were a key topic.

The Kremlin hailed the visit as a chance for Putin and Macron to get to know each other and better understand their views on a range of disputed issues, including the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and Russia’s ties with the European Union.

During his G-7 news conference on Saturday, Macron promised to have a “demanding dialogue” with Russia, especially on Syria. He called it a failure that European nations were not involved in the talks over Syria’s future but were being hit by the effects of that crisis, including the huge number of Syrian refugees trying to get to Europe.

“We must talk to Russia to change the framework for getting out of the military crisis in Syria and to build a much more collective and integrated inclusive political solution,” Macron declared.

Macron’s invitation for Putin was a surprise after his tough stance on Russia during the French election. Macron’s aides also claimed that Russian groups launched hacking attacks on his presidential campaign. Moscow strongly denied all allegations of election meddling.

Monday’s visit offers both sides an opportunity to improve ties that steadily deteriorated in the closing months of the presidency of Macron’s predecessor, Socialist Francois Hollande.

“As a person who pays utmost attention to personal contacts, Putin believes that only a one-on-one meeting could give answers to many questions about Macron as a person and as president of France, as well as his future foreign policy course and his stance on Russia,” Tatyana Stanovaya of the Center for Political Technologies, an independent Moscow-based think-tank, wrote.

In October, Putin abruptly shelved a trip to Paris after Hollande alleged that Russia could face war crime charges for its actions in Syria. Hollande also refused to take part in the opening of the newly built Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center in Paris and was only interested in talking with Russia about Syria.

Later Monday, Putin is to visit the center near the Seine River that includes the Holy Trinity Cathedral. The site was sold to Russia under former President Nicolas Sarkozy amid criticism from rights groups.

After their talks at Versailles, Putin and Macron will tour an exhibition there marking the 300th anniversary of Russian Czar Peter the Great’s trip to Paris that was prepared by St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum.

With Peter the Great widely seen as a ruler who modernized Russia and sought to open it up to the West, the exhibition offers a symbolic backdrop for both to talk about the importance of Russia-France ties.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said Russia was dissatisfied with the current level of political contacts and that the meeting “is very important for both Russia and France.”

Ushakov said he expects an “interesting discussion” on ways to implement a 2015 Minsk deal for eastern Ukraine, which was brokered by Germany and France. The U.S. and the EU have made the prospect of lifting economic and financial sanctions against Moscow contingent on fulfilling the peace agreement.

The deal has helped reduce the scale of fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, but clashes have continued and political elements of the agreement have stalled. Ukraine and Russia have blamed one another for the fighting that has left some 10,000 people dead.

Ushakov said that the two leaders will also have a “frank” discussion on Syria, where Russia has backed Syrian President Bashar Assad and France has pushed strongly for his removal. He added that last week’s suicide attack on Manchester Arena emphasized the need to pool efforts in the fight against terrorism.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday urged European Union nations to stick together in the face of emerging policy divisions with the U.S., Britain’s decision to leave the bloc and other challenges. Merkel also stressed the importance of being good neighbors “wherever that is possible, including with Russia, but also with others.”

Human rights activists protested Monday in Paris over the situation of gays in the Russian republic of Chechnya, holding a banner “Stop homophobia in Chechnya” near the Eiffel Tower.

“It’s important that Mr. Putin is ready to hear, we hope, strong words coming from Mr. Macron, to say ‘stop’ to that homophobia, which has lasted for too long,” Cecile Coudriou of Amnesty International said.

Human Rights Watch said last week that high-level officials in Russia’s Chechnya humiliated inmates during visits to detention facilities where gay people were being held and tortured.




AP FACT CHECK: Trump claims unearned exoneration on Russia

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump persists in suggesting that his 2016 campaign has been exonerated on the question of whether it colluded with Russians, even as a powerful investigation forms to look into that matter and multiple other inquiries press on.

The president joined Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos in a news conference Thursday. He misstated the record on jobs and a violent national gang as well as on the matter that prompted the Justice Department a day earlier to appoint a special counsel with wide-ranging powers to investigate the Trump campaign and Russia.

A look at some of his assertions:

-“Even my enemies have said there is no collusion.”

THE FACTS: Democrats have not absolved Trump on whether his campaign and Russian officials coordinated efforts last year to disadvantage his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Several have said they have not seen evidence of collusion, but that’s not to say they are satisfied it did not happen.

Trump has cited James Clapper, the director of national intelligence until Trump took office Jan. 20, among others, as being “convinced” there was no collusion.

Clapper said this week that while a report he issued in January did not uncover collusion, he did not know at the time that the FBI was digging deeply into “potential political collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians” and he was unaware of what the bureau might have found. The FBI inquiry continues, as do congressional investigations and, now, one by the special counsel.

-On his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey: “I actually thought when I made that decision – and I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.”

THE FACTS: The recommendation Trump cites behind his decision was written after he’d already made up his mind, according to Rosenstein and to Trump’s own previous statement.

In an interview with NBC two days after the May 9 Comey dismissal, Trump said he had been planning to fire Comey for months, and linked it with the FBI’s Russia probe, saying, “In fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

On Thursday, Rosenstein told senators in a closed-door briefing that he had been informed of Trump’s decision to fire Comey before he wrote his memo providing a rationale for that act, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

-Speaking of the MS-13 gang presence in the U.S.: “A horrible, horrible large group of gangs that have been let into our country over a fairly short period of time. … They’ve literally taken over towns and cities of the United States.”

THE FACTS: His depiction of the gang as a foreign one “let into” the U.S. is not accurate.

The gang actually began in Los Angeles, according to a fact sheet from Trump’s own Justice Department, and “spread quickly across the country.” And it started not recently, but in the 1980s according to that same fact sheet.

The department indirectly credits the Obama administration, in its early years, with helping to rein in the group, largely made up of first-generation Salvadoran-Americans and Salvadoran nationals. It said: “Through the combined efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement, great progress was made diminishing or severely (disrupting) the gang within certain targeted areas of the U.S. by 2009 and 2010.”

The U.S. carried out record deportations during the Obama administration and, on MS-13 specifically, took the unprecedented action of labelling the street gang a transnational criminal organization and announcing a freeze on its U.S. assets. Such actions were not enough to bring down the group and the Trump administration says it will do more.

-“You look at the tremendous number of jobs that are being announced.” – Thursday news conference

– Jobs are pouring back into our country.” – speech Wednesday to the Coast Guard Academy

-I inherited a mess. … Jobs are pouring out of the country.” – February news conference

THE FACTS: Trump’s rhetoric about jobs has changed, but the actual data about hiring haven’t. Job gains have been solid since Trump was inaugurated, averaging 185,000 a month from January through April, according to government figures. But that is the same pace of hiring as occurred in 2016, when Barack Obama was president, and slower than in 2014 and 2015, when more than 225,000 jobs a month were added, on average.

As for Ford, context is everything. After hailing the addition of some 800 jobs, Trump was silent after Ford announced Wednesday it plans to cut 1,400 non-factory jobs in North America and Asia. That will most likely outweigh the jobs added earlier.

Overall, presidents typically get far more credit or blame for the state of the economy than they deserve, economists say. And it is particularly unlikely that any president would have an impact after just four months on the job. But that hasn’t stopped Trump from taking credit.

“Great jobs report today – it is all beginning to work!” he tweeted May 5, after the government reported that solid hiring in April had pushed the unemployment rate to a 10-year low. A spokesman said on the same day that “the president’s economic agenda of serious tax reform, slashing burdensome regulations, rebuilding our infrastructure and negotiating fairer trade deals is adding jobs.”

While Trump, with the help of the GOP Congress, has taken some minor steps on deregulation, little progress has been made on taxes, infrastructure or trade.