Putin, on visit, orders Russian forces to start pulling out of Syria: agencies

In this Monday, Dec. 11, 2017 frame grab made available by Russian Rossiya 24 TV Channel Sergei Surovikin, Russian Commander in Syria, left, goes to report to President Vladimir Putin, center, at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria. Declaring a victory in Syria, Putin on Monday visited a Russian military air base in the country and announced a partial pullout of Russian forces from the Mideast nation. Syrian President Bashar Assad is seen center left. (Rossiya 24 TV Channel photo via AP)
Updated 12 December 2017
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Putin, on visit, orders Russian forces to start pulling out of Syria: agencies

MOSCOW: Declaring a victory in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday visited a Russian military air base in the country and announced a partial pullout of Russian forces from the Mideast nation.
Putin’s visit marks his first trip to Syria, drawing a symbolic line under the campaign that has shored up President Bashar Assad’s government. It is also the first visit by a foreign head of state to war-ravaged Syria since its bloodletting started nearly seven years ago.
Putin’s brief stop at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia while on route to Egypt comes days after the Russian president declared his bid to run for re-election in the March 18 vote, helping encourage the feelings of pride about Russia’s revived global clout and prestige.
It also follows the Russian announcement last week that the Syrian army under the Russian air cover routed the Islamic State in eastern Syria and fully restored control over the border with Iraq.
In a televised speech to the Russian troops at the base, the Russian leader hailed their valor.
“You have shown the best qualities of a Russian soldier,” Putin said.
The Hemeimeem base, in the heartland of Assad’s Alawite minority, has served as the main foothold for the Russian military campaign in Syria.
In a speech to the troops, Putin said that he had ordered the military to withdraw a “significant part” of the Russian contingent in Syria.
“Friends, the Motherland is waiting for you,” Putin said. He added that “if the terrorists again raise their heads, we will deal such blows to them they have never seen.”
Russian television stations showed Putin walking off the plane, embracing and shaking hands with Assad at the air base.
Putin said that the Russian military will maintain their presence at the Hemeimeem air base and the naval facility in Tartus.
Syrian TV said Assad thanked Putin for his troops’ effective contribution to the fight against terrorism in Syria.
Russia launched its air campaign in Syria at the end of September 2015 when Assad’s government was teetering on the brink of collapse and quickly changed the course of the conflict in its favor.


Malaysia detains Najib ex-aide in first arrest over 1MDB scandal

Updated 19 min 41 sec ago
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Malaysia detains Najib ex-aide in first arrest over 1MDB scandal

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian authorities have made the first arrest in a renewed probe into the multibillion-dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB, remanding a former aide of ousted prime minister Najib Razak to assist in investigations, Bernama news reported on Monday.
Malaysia’s new government led by the 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad reopened investigations into billions of dollars allegedly siphoned out of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) after Najib’s administration lost a general election in May, fueled by anger over the scandal and rising living costs.
On Monday, a magistrate’s court granted an application by anti-graft officials to remand Najib’s former aide for a week to assist in their investigations into 1MDB, according to a report by national newswire Bernama.
The 42-year-old aide, described in the report as having worked for Najib since 2009, was arrested on Sunday night after giving a statement at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) headquarters in the administrative capital of Putrajaya.
Earlier this month, Malaysia’s new attorney general said his office was studying possible criminal and civil action in the 1MDB case, after receiving investigation papers on the state fund from the anti-graft agency.
Former prime minister Najib, who founded 1MDB, is the subject of a money laundering probe. Najib has consistently denied wrongdoing.
Najib, in some of his most extensive comments yet on the 1MDB scandal, told Reuters last week that he did not know if hundreds of millions of dollars that moved through his personal account was from 1MDB, and if money from the fund was eventually laundered to acquire assets globally, including yachts, paintings, gems and prime real estate.
Transactions involving 1MDB are being investigated in half a dozen countries, including the United States, where it has become the biggest case pursued by the Department of Justice under its anti-kleptocracy program.
The US Department of Justice has alleged in lawsuits that more than $4.5 billion from 1MDB was laundered through a complex web of transactions and shell companies, of which $681 million ended in Najib’s bank account. Najib says the money in his account was donations from Saudi Arabia, most of which he returned.
According to the US justice department, assets purchased using 1MDB money include a Picasso painting, luxury real estate in South California and New York, shares in a Hollywood production company and a $265 million yacht, and more than $200 million worth of jewelry — including a 22-carat pink diamond pendant and necklace.