Putin rejects spy attack claims as chemical weapons experts head to UK

Russian President Vladimir Putin at a polling station during the presidential election in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 19 March 2018
0

Putin rejects spy attack claims as chemical weapons experts head to UK

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Sunday rubbished claims that Russia poisoned a former spy in Britain, on the eve of international chemical weapons experts heading to the UK to probe the attack.
“It’s complete drivel, rubbish, nonsense that somebody in Russia would allow themselves to do such a thing ahead of elections and the World Cup,” Putin told supporters after winning a fourth term as president.
“We have destroyed all chemical weapons,” he added, rejecting Britain’s claim that only Moscow could be behind the nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The poisoning in the English city of Salisbury on March 4 has led to a diplomatic crisis, with Britain expelling 23 Kremlin diplomats.
Technical experts from Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will visit Britain on Monday to collect samples of the nerve agent used in the attack.
“These will then be despatched to highly-reputable international laboratories selected by the OPCW for testing with results expected to take a minimum of two weeks,” said a statement by Britain’s Foreign Office.
Putin said Russia is “ready to take part in the investigation,” although earlier on Sunday British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused the Russians of “smug sarcasm and denial” in response to the accusations.
Moscow’s “malign, disruptive behavior” internationally was the reason why allies were “inclined not to give Russia the benefit of the doubt,” he told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
Johnson also said Britain would target wealth linked to the Kremlin as a further measure following the spy poisoning.
“Where people have obtained wealth by corruption and where we can see a link with the Kremlin, with Vladimir Putin, it may be possible to have unexplained wealth orders and other sanctions on those individuals,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the government was considering something similar to the US “Magnitsky Act” which was adopted in 2012 to punish Russian officials accused of human rights violations.
The act imposed a visa ban and froze the assets of Russian officials implicated in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a tax fraud whistleblower who died in Russian custody in 2009.
However, the minister faced awkward questions over a tennis match he played with the wife of former Kremlin minister Vladimir Chernukhin, in return for a £160,000 ($223,000, 181,500 euros) donation to his Conservative Party.
On Saturday, Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said Moscow “had nothing to do” with the attack, accusing Johnson of “acting in an inappropriate manner” by pointing the finger at Putin.
“Russia has stopped production of any chemical agents back in 1992,” he told Marr, the day after Moscow expelled 23 British diplomats in a tit-for-tat measure.
But the Foreign Office dismissed the claim, saying it had “information indicating that within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents likely for assassination.
“And part of this program has involved producing and stockpiling quantities of Novichok,” a statement said.
Chizhov also appeared to suggest that Britain itself may have been the source of the chemical agent.
“When you have a nerve agent, you check it against certain samples you have in your laboratories,” he said.
“And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the UK that has been dealing with chemical weapons research — and it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.”
Johnson called the accusation “satirical,” adding it was “not the response of a country that really believes itself it to be innocent.”


Bill Cosby convicted of drugging and molesting a woman

Updated 26 April 2018
0

Bill Cosby convicted of drugging and molesting a woman

NORRISTOWN-PENNSILVANIA: Bill Cosby was convicted Thursday of drugging and molesting a woman in the first big celebrity trial of the #MeToo era,
completing the spectacular late-life downfall of a comedian who broke racial barriers in Hollywood on his way to TV superstardom as America’s Dad.
Cosby, 80, could end up spending his final years in prison after a jury concluded he sexually violated Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. He claimed the encounter was consensual.
Cosby stared straight ahead as the verdict was read, but moments later lashed out loudly at District Attorney Kevin Steele and called him an “a--hole” after the prosecutor asked that Cosby be immediately jailed because he might flee. Cosby denied he has an airplane and shouted, “I’m sick of him!“
The judge decided Cosby can remain free on bail while he awaits sentencing.
Shrieks erupted in the courtroom when the verdict was announced, and some of his accusers whimpered and cried. Constand remained stoic, then hugged her lawyer and members of the prosecution team.
“Justice has been done!” celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who represented some of Cosby’s accusers, said on the courthouse steps. “We are so happy that finally we can say women are believed.”
The verdict came after a two-week retrial in which prosecutors put five other women on the stand who testified that Cosby, married for 54 years, drugged and violated them, too. One of those women asked him through her tears, “You remember, don’t you, Mr. Cosby?“
The panel of seven men and five women reached a verdict after deliberating 14 hours over two days, vindicating prosecutors’ decision to retry Cosby after his first trial ended with a hung jury less than a year ago.
Cosby could get up to 10 years in prison on each of the three counts of aggravated indecent assault. He is likely to get less than that under state sentencing guidelines, but given his age, even a modest term could mean he will die behind bars.
Constand, 45, a former Temple women’s basketball administrator, told jurors that Cosby knocked her out with three blue pills he called “your friends” and then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay immobilized, unable to resist or say no.
It was the only criminal case to arise from a barrage of allegations from more than 60 women who said the former TV star drugged and molested them over a span of five decades.
“The time for the defendant to escape justice is over,” prosecutor Stewart Ryan said in his closing argument. “It’s finally time for the defendant to dine on the banquet of his own consequences.”
Another prosecutor, Kristen Feden, said Cosby was “nothing like the image that he played on TV” as sweater-wearing, wisdom-dispensing father of five Dr. Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.”