Russia takes over US compound in Moscow in retaliation over sanctions

This file photo taken on December 30, 2016 shows Russian policemen standing guard in front of the US Embassy in Moscow. Russian authorities on Wednesday took over a summer-house compound in Moscow leased by the US embassy, five days after the Kremlin ordered Washington to slash its diplomatic presence in Russia. (AFP / Alexander Nemenov)
Updated 02 August 2017
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Russia takes over US compound in Moscow in retaliation over sanctions

MOSCOW: Russian authorities on Wednesday took over a summer-house compound in Moscow leased by the US embassy, five days after the Kremlin ordered Washington to slash its diplomatic presence in Russia.
In retaliation for new US sanctions, President Vladimir Putin has ordered the United States to cut around 60 percent of its diplomatic staff in Russia by Sept. 1, and said Moscow would seize a dacha country villa used by US embassy staff and a warehouse.
US employees cleared out the dacha on Tuesday and a Reuters journalist who visited the property on Wednesday saw a large metal padlock securing the front gate.
The one-story building and courtyard, previously used by diplomatic staff at weekends and to host embassy parties, was empty and cleared of barbecue equipment and garden furniture.
Two policemen in a car in front of the main entrance said they had been instructed to guard the property and did not expect any visits from US or Russian officials.
“I don’t know when this situation will change,” one of the policemen said.
Maria Olson, a spokeswoman for the US embassy, had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters. She was quoted by Russia’s Interfax news agency as saying the embassy had retrieved all its possessions from the villa, and from the warehouse.
Putin said on Sunday Russia had ordered the United States to cut 755 of its 1,200 diplomatic staff in its embassy and consular operations, though many of those let go will be Russian citizens, with the United States allowed to choose who leaves.
The ultimatum issued by the Russian leader is a display to voters at home that he is prepared to stand up to Washington — but is also carefully calibrated to avoid directly affecting the US investment he needs, or burning his bridges with US President Donald Trump.
One local Russian employee at the embassy, who declined to be named when speaking to the media, said staff were still in the dark about their future employment.
“They say they will have to cut a lot of jobs – not just diplomats and technical staff, but also in the ancillary services, including drivers, janitors and cooks,” he said. “I hope I won’t be in trouble, but who knows.”


Former Philippine president Aquino charged in $1.35 billion budget case

Updated 49 min 40 sec ago
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Former Philippine president Aquino charged in $1.35 billion budget case

MANILA: Former Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has been indicted in a $1.35 billion criminal case over his failure to get congressional approval to use state funds to jump-start major government projects, authorities said Wednesday.
The money became a source of controversy during Aquino’s term from 2010-2016, with critics claiming he used it to barter for favors from legislators. He has always denied any wrongdoing.
The charge, filed last week by a special anti-corruption prosecutor but only made public Wednesday, alleges that Aquino violated the constitution’s separation of powers.
In the indictment, prosecutor Conchita Morales alleged Aquino wrote a series of instructions to his budget minister to funnel 72 billion pesos ($1.35 billion) into a special initiative in June 2012.
“Without the approval of the said memoranda by respondent Aquino, (the budget ministry’s fund release order) would not have been issued,” Morales said in a statement.
Aquino branded the initiative, the “Disbursement Allocation Program,” an attempt to speed up public spending in the notoriously bureaucratic nation in order to boost economic growth.
The scheme redirected money left unspent in agencies’ budgets to other parts of the government that needed funding for projects.
The program began in 2012 but Aquino was forced to halt it two years later, after the Supreme Court ruled it violated a constitutional provision which gives the legislature sole power to authorize government spending.
Aquino had yet to receive a copy of the indictment alleging “usurpation of legislative powers,” his spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.
“We’re quite curious to study how the (prosecutor) arrived at a reversal of its previous decision finding no liability on the part of former president Aquino,” Valte added.
The prosecutor dropped the case in 2015, but reversed herself following an appeal by a group of legislators and anti-corruption campaigners.
If convicted, Aquino could face up to two years and four months behind bars.
Both of Aquino’s predecessors were hit with charges after their terms ended.
Joseph Estrada, a populist movie star who swept to a landslide electoral win in 1998, was arrested in 2001 shortly after a bloodless popular revolt cut short his six-year mandate.
A court sentenced him to life in prison for plunder in 2007, but he won a pardon from his successor Gloria Arroyo less than six weeks later.
Arroyo, who ruled for nine years, was arrested in 2010 and charged with rigging the 2007 senatorial election, a case which carries a life sentence but which remains under trial.
She was released from nearly five years in detention in 2016, shortly after Rodrigo Duterte was elected president, when the Supreme Court acquitted her on charges of misusing 366 million pesos in state lottery funds.