Leaked video shows Khashoggi ‘body double’ after killing

Photo by the Associated Press

Just hours after writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, a man strolled out of the diplomatic post apparently wearing the columnist’s clothes as part of a macabre deception to sow confusion over his fate, according to surveillance video leaked Monday.

The new video broadcast by CNN, as well as a pro-government Turkish newspaper’s report that a member of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s entourage made four calls to the royal’s office from the consulate around the same time, put ever-increasing pressure on the kingdom. Meanwhile, Turkish crime-scene investigators swarmed a garage Monday night in Istanbul where a Saudi consular vehicle had been parked.

All this came on the eve of Prince Mohammed’s high-profile investment summit in Riyadh, which has seen a raft of the world’s top business leaders decline to attend over the slaying of the writer for The Washington Post. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also has promised that details of Khashoggi’s killing “will be revealed in all its nakedness” in an address he’ll make before parliament around the same time Tuesday.

“We are faced with a situation in which it was a brutally planned (killing) and efforts were made to cover it up,” said Omer Celik, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party. “God willing, the results will be brought into the open, those responsible will be punished and no one will dare think of carrying out such a thing again.”

The kingdom’s announcement Saturday that Khashoggi died in a “fistfight” was met with international skepticism and allegations of a cover-up to absolve the 33-year-old crown prince of direct responsibility.

Turkish media reports and officials maintain that a 15-member Saudi team flew to Istanbul on Oct. 2, knowing Khashoggi would enter the consulate to get a document he needed to get married. Once he was inside, the Saudis accosted Khashoggi, cut off his fingers, killed and dismembered the 59-year-old writer, according to Turkish media reports.

Surveillance video on CNN showed the man in Khashoggi’s dress shirt, suit jacket and pants, although he wore a different pair of shoes. It cited a Turkish official as describing the man as a “body double” and a member of the Saudi team sent to Istanbul to target the writer. The man walks out of the consulate via its back exit with an accomplice, then takes a taxi to Istanbul’s famed Blue Mosque, where he goes to a public bathroom, changes back out of the clothes and leaves. He later eats dinner with his accomplice and goes back to a hotel, where footage shows him smiling and laughing.

The state-run broadcaster TRT later also reported that a man who entered the consulate was seen leaving the building in Khashoggi’s clothes.

In the days after Khashoggi vanished, Saudi officials initially said he had left the consulate by its back door. Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Khalid bin Salman, a brother of the crown prince, wrote Oct. 8 that Khashoggi had left, and that claims the kingdom “have detained him or killed him are absolutely false, and baseless.”

The fact that the Saudi team would allegedly have a man walking around in Khashoggi’s clothes would suggest a premeditated plot to kill the writer.

A separate report Monday by newspaper Yeni Safak said Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a member of Prince Mohammed’s entourage seen on trips to the U.S., France and Spain this year, made the calls from the consulate. The newspaper said the four calls went to Bader al-Asaker, the head of Prince Mohammed’s office. It said another call went to the United States.

Yeni Safak cited no source for the information. However, pro-government newspapers have been leaking information about Khashoggi’s killing, apparently with the help of Turkish security forces. Yeni Safak reported last week that Saudi officials cut off Khashoggi’s fingers and then decapitated him at the consulate as his fiancée waited outside.

Officials in Saudi Arabia have not answered repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press in recent days, including on Monday. Saudi Arabia so far has not acknowledged or explained Mutreb’s presence in Istanbul or the presence of a forensics and autopsy expert at the consulate before Khashoggi arrived.

Last week, a leaked photo apparently taken from surveillance footage showed Mutreb at the consulate, just ahead of Khashoggi’s arrival. Mutreb’s name also matches that of a first secretary who once served as a diplomat at the Saudi Embassy in London, according to a 2007 list compiled by the British Foreign Office.

By nightfall, Turkish police began searching an underground car parking garage in Istanbul’s Sultangazi district. Surveillance footage on TRT showed what Turkish security officials described as suspicious actions, including an image of a man moving a bag from one vehicle to another.

Meanwhile, Saudi state media reported that both Prince Mohammed and King Salman made calls to Khashoggi’s son, Salah, early Monday. Statements from the agency said both the king and the crown prince expressed their condolences for Khashoggi’s death.

A Saudi friend of Khashoggi who was in frequent touch with him before his death told the AP that Salah Khashoggi had been under a travel ban and barred from leaving the kingdom since last year as a result of his father’s criticism of the government. The friend spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussion. The Saudi statements did not acknowledge the ban.

Five Turkish employees of the consulate also gave testimony to prosecutors Monday, Turkish media reported. Istanbul’s chief prosecutor had summoned 28 more staff members of the Saudi Consulate, including Turkish citizens and foreign nationals, to give testimony. Some Turkish employees reportedly said they were instructed not to go to work around the time that Khashoggi disappeared.

From the Associated Press.

Karlie Kloss marries Jared Kushner’s brother

Photo by the Associated Press

Supermodel Karlie Kloss has married businessman Joshua Kushner.

Kloss posted a photo of her in a wedding dress and Kushner in a tuxedo—both of them beaming—on Instagram and Twitter Thursday night. People magazine reports the couple married at a small ceremony in upstate New York and will have a larger ceremony in the spring.

Kloss’ publicists did not return an email seeking details about the wedding Thursday.

Kushner is the younger brother of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers.

Kloss has modeled for Victoria’s Secret and numerous luxury brands, and will be the new host of “Project Runway.”

From the Associated Press.

PRC’s growth slows as officials attempt to reassure investors

Photo by the Associated Press

The People’s Republic of China reported economic growth sank to a post-global crisis low as finance officials launched a media blitz Friday to shore up confidence in its sagging stock market.

Growth in the quarter that ended in September slipped to 6.5 percent over a year earlier from the previous quarter’s 6.7 percent, official data showed. It was the slowest rate since early 2009.

The world’s second-largest economy already was cooling before a tariff war between Beijing and President Donald Trump erupted.

Beijing tightened controls on lending last year to rein in a debt boom. That has weighed on housing sales and consumer spending. Car buyers are steering clear of dealerships.

Credit controls and trade tensions are “taking a bite out of economic momentum,” said Bill Adams of PNC Financial Services Group in a report.

The impact of President Trump’s penalty tariffs of up to 25 percent on PRC goods in a dispute over Beijing’s technology policy has contributed. With the rest of their $12 trillion-a-year economy slowing, the communist leadership has reversed course and ordered banks to lend.

“Downward pressure has increased,” a government spokesman, Mao Shengyong, said at a news conference.

Officials led by Communist China’s economic czar, Vice Premier Liu He, tried Friday to reassure investors about a stock market that has sagged 30 percent since January.

The decline is “creating good investment opportunities,” Liu said in comments carried by the official Xinhua News Agency and business newspapers and websites.

“China’s current economic fundamentals are good,” the central bank’s governor, Yi Gang, said on its website.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index ended the day up 2.6 percent.

The government also said insurers will be allowed to create products to help stabilize the market by reducing “liquidity risk.” That refers to fears lenders that accepted stock as collateral for loans might sell, flooding the market and driving a new price collapse.

Retail sales, factory output and investment in factories and equipment—bigger drivers of growth than exports—all weakened in the latest quarter.

The conflict with the District of Columbia has prompted PRC leaders to step up a marathon effort to encourage self-sustaining growth driven by domestic consumption and reduce reliance on exports and investment though the country has recently strengthened economic ties with Russia.

Beijing has cut tariffs, promised to lift curbs on foreign ownership of auto producers and taken other steps to rev up growth.

But leaders have refused to scrap plans such as “Made in China 2025,” which calls for state-led creation of PRC champions in robotics and other technologies.

The United States, Europe and other trading partners say those violate Beijing’s market-opening commitments. But PRC leaders see them as a path to prosperity and global influence.

Regulators have ordered banks to step up lending, especially to entrepreneurs who create most of the PRC’s new jobs and wealth. Forecasters say it will take time for results to show.

Government support is “starting to gain traction,” but more will be needed to stabilize growth, Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said in a report.

Washington has raised tariffs on $250 billion of PRC goods and President Trump says he might extend penalties to almost all imports from the PRC. Beijing responded with its own tariff hikes on $110 billion of American imports. But it is running out of goods for retaliation due to their lopsided trade balance.

Forecasters say that if all the tariff hikes both sides have threatened are imposed, that could cut Communist China’s 2019 growth by up to 0.3 percentage points.

The Trump administration argues that the PRC has more to lose in a trade war—and will face pressure to reach a truce because it exports more than it buys from the United States and because its economy is decelerating while the U.S. economy looks strong.

But Claude Barfield, scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, noted that the PRC’s growth rate “doesn’t seem to be anything close to a crisis.”

Exports to the United States rose 13 percent in September despite the tariff hikes, down slightly from August’s 13.4 percent, helping push the PRC’s politically volatile trade surplus with the United States to a record $34.1 billion.

Exporters of clothes and other lower-value goods say American orders began falling in April as trade tensions worsened. But makers of less price-sensitive exports such as factory equipment and medical technology are confident they can keep their market share.

Trade has shrunk as a share of the economy but still supports millions of jobs.

The government is promising to help struggling exporters.

“In general, the impact is limited,” a Commerce Ministry spokesman, Gao Feng, said Friday. “Governments at all levels will also take active measures to help enterprises and employees cope with possible difficulties.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

U.S. home sales fell in September to slowest pace in 3 years

U.S. home sales fell for the sixth straight month in September, a sign that housing has increasingly become a weak spot for the economy.

The National Association of Realtors said Friday that sales declined 3.4 percent last month, the biggest drop in 2 ½ years, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.15 million. That’s the lowest sales pace since November 2015.

Hurricane Florence dragged sales in North Carolina, but even excluding the storm’s effects, sales would have fallen more than 2 percent, the NAR said. After reaching the highest level in a decade last year, sales of existing homes have declined steadily in 2018 amid rapid price increases, higher mortgage rates and a tight supply of available houses.

Still, analysts are mostly optimistic about the broader economy. Most forecast growth will top 3 percent at an annual rate in the July-September quarter, after a robust expansion of 4.2 percent in the second quarter.

“Housing is no longer a tail wind for the economy, but the headwinds are blowing very gently,” said Michelle Meyer, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, before the report was released.

Housing will likely weaken further in the coming months. September’s weakness came before mortgage rates jumped further this month to their highest levels in seven years. Sales fell 4.1 percent in September from a year ago.

“Without a doubt there is a clear shift in the market,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors.

One sign of the shift is that demand for existing homes is slowing. Home prices are rising at a slower rate and the supply of available houses, while low, is increasing. Buyer traffic has also declined, Yun said.

And with rents also stabilizing in many cities, many would-be buyers may not feel as much pressure to buy a new home.

“Renting itself may be seen as a better bargain as rising mortgage interest rates, still-rising home prices and sluggish wage growth dent the affordability advantage of a typical mortgage,” said Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at real estate data provider Zillow.

Sales have fallen by the most in the West, where most of the nation’s hottest real estate markets are located and where prices have soared for several years. Sales tumbled 12.2 percent in that region in the past year, compared with just 5.6 percent in the Northeast and 1.5 percent in the Midwest. They dropped just 0.5 percent in the South from a year earlier, despite a sharp decline in September due to Hurricane Florence.

The highest-priced homes are also reporting slower sales, a shift from earlier this year, when sales slowdowns were concentrated in mid-priced and cheaper homes. Homes priced at $1 million and higher saw sales drop 2 percent from a year ago.

Higher borrowing costs are making housing less affordable. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage slipped this week but remained near a seven-year high of 4.85 percent. A year ago, it stood at 3.88 percent.

There are also signs that home owners are increasingly unwilling to sell as mortgage rates rise. That’s because many have rates below 4 percent, so selling a home and buying a new one would require them to accept a higher rate.

The Realtors surveyed consumers and found that 16 percent are unwilling to give up their mortgage rate and buy a new home. That’s up from a typical level of 10 percent.

From the Associated Press.

Songwriter wins $44M in lawsuit

Photo by Loren Wohl

A Philadelphia songwriter who claims he was cut out of profits and credit from a song that was recorded by R&B star Usher has been awarded more than $44 million in damages in a suit that targeted the track’s other co-writers.

A jury last week awarded the sum to Daniel Marino. His former co-writer William Guice was ordered to pay $6.75 million in compensatory damages, and $20.25 million in punitive damages.

Also last week Destro Music Productions, owned by co-defendant Dante Barton, agreed to pay Marino $17.35 million. That brings his total award to $44.35 million.

The lawsuit stemmed from Marino’s work on a song called “Club Girl”. Daniel Marino says he created most of the song, including its guitar hook, tempo and chord progression.

The song was recorded by Usher in 2004 and renamed “Bad Girl”.

Usher wasn’t named in the suit.

Prince Harry opens memorial

Photo by the Associated Press

Prince Harry paid tribute to Australian service members by opening a new wing of a war memorial on Saturday before heading to a delayed opening of the Invictus Games as he and wife Meghan continued their visit to Australia and the South Pacific.

A thus-far joyous debut royal tour by the couple, buoyed by news that they are expecting their first baby, turned solemn as the Duke of Sussex opened a long-awaited extension to the Anzac Memorial in downtown Sydney’s Hyde Park on Saturday morning.

The former British army captain and his wife laid a wreath of Australian native flowers at the steps of the memorial, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison, other dignitaries, and service men and women looked on.

Harry and Meghan were then taken on a tour of the newly remodeled shrine, which was first opened in 1934 by Harry’s great-great uncle, Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, but was left incomplete due to a shortage of funds during the Great Depression. A project worth 40 million Australian dollars ($28.4 million) has finally realized the memorial’s original design.

In a handwritten signed note pinned to the wreath, Harry wrote, “In memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and in recognition of the men and women for whom the scars endure.”

Wearing the tropical dress of his regiment, the Blues and Royals, Harry unveiled a plaque that noted the extension was “opened by a grandson of the Queen.”

The wording was a nod to the original plaque Prince Henry unveiled 84 years ago, which noted that the memorial was “opened by the son of a king.”

Harry saluted as the Last Post rang out across Hyde Park, while Meghan, in a long black dress by New Zealand designer Emilia Wickstead, stood beside him.

The royal couple later visited Sydney Harbour’s Cockatoo Island, where Harry delighted some children by joining them in playing with remote-controlled cars. The couple visited the island to watch an Invictus Games event—the Land Rover Driving Challenge.

Harry was scheduled to officially open the games in an early evening ceremony on the Sydney Opera House forecourt. That ceremony, however, was delayed after the city was lashed by a late afternoon thunderstorm.

The Invictus Games, Harry’s brainchild and the focus of this tour, were founded by the prince in 2014. The sporting event gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball, and to find inspiration to recover.

Harry and Meghan will also visit Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand during their 16-day tour.

From the Associated Press.

Mega Millions jackpot climbs to $1.6B

No one won the latest Mega Millions drawing, meaning the jackpot climbs to a staggering $1.6 billion.

Mega Millions officials say no tickets matched all six numbers to claim the estimated $1 billion grand prize in Friday night’s drawing. The numbers were 15, 23, 53, 65, 70 and Mega Ball 7.

The next drawing will be Tuesday.

With the jackpot currently tied with the record-setting lottery jackpot and bound to grow before the next drawing, it is bound to become the largest prize in U.S. history.

The jackpot has been growing since July, when a group of California office workers won $543 million.

It costs $2 to play the game, but the odds of winning the jackpot aren’t good. The chance of matching all six numbers and taking home the grand prize is one in 302.5 million.

Mega Millions is played in 44 states as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

From the Associated Press.