HARI SREENIVASAN: Rebels in Syria claimed a major victory today. They seized control of a large army base on the outskirts of Aleppo. The rebels captured tanks, armored vehicles, and truckloads of munitions after four days of intense fighting with government forces. It was one of their biggest hauls of weapons since the uprising began. Meanwhile, Syrian troops battled to dislodge rebels from a stronghold just outside Damascus.
France’s combat mission in Afghanistan is coming to an end, well ahead of a 2014 deadline to withdraw; 500 French soldiers pulled out of a base in a region northeast of Kabul today. Some 1,500 other French troops will remain to pack up equipment and train Afghan forces. France had 4,000 soldiers in Afghanistan at the height of the war. At least 88 died in the conflict.
Rebels in Eastern Congo have taken the key city of Goma, forcing Congolese government forces to withdraw. Thousands of refugees fled today as the rebels pushed into the city. Some 1,500 U.N. peacekeepers and armor stood aside, and didn’t try to block the advance. Congo has accused neighboring Rwanda of backing the rebels in an effort to control the region’s mineral wealth.
Federal prosecutors in New York announced charges today in what could be the single biggest insider trading payoff ever. Mathew Martoma allegedly used confidential information about an Alzheimer’s drug to make more than a quarter-billion dollars for a hedge fund in 2006.
For more, we turn to David Voreacos of Bloomberg News.
Thanks for being with us.
DAVID VOREACOS, Bloomberg News: Thank you for having me.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, first off, how did this alleged scheme work? What kind of information was being traded?
DAVID VOREACOS: Well, the prosecutors today in New York alleged that a hedge fund adviser SAC Capital Advisors in Connecticut, which is run by billionaire Steve Cohen, gathered inside information about an Alzheimer’s clinical drug trial that was being conducted and that, based on that information, he built a position of $700 million in the two drug companies that were running the trial, Wyeth and Elan, and through his connections with a neurologist at the University of Michigan, he gathered inside information about the progress of that clinical drug trial, first building the position in the stock when he thought the trial was going well.
And then when he affirmatively learned that it wasn’t going so well, he had the fund sell all of its shares and stock options. And it gained or avoided losses of $276 million.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, so what do we know about this firm and this individual? Some of his employees have been in the cross hairs before.
DAVID VOREACOS: Cohen has had one of the best track records on Wall Street in terms of running his hedge fund.
He’s had returns averaging 30 percent a year since 1992. He is personally worth about $8 billion. Six of his employees have been criminally charged in the last three years in the Wall Street crackdown on insider trading by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. And that’s out of about 70 or 75 people who have been charged. So far, Cohen himself has not been charged by the U.S. Justice Department or by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, David Voreacos of Bloomberg News, thanks so much.
The day’s other major business story involved Hewlett-Packard. The company announced that a British firm acquired last year had lied about its finances. As a result, H.P. said it’s taking a charge of $8.8 billion against earnings. H.P. stock fell 12 percent in daily trading today.
Wall Street as a whole also struggled to make any headway. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than seven points to close at 12,788. The Nasdaq rose more than half-a-point to close above 2,916.
In Britain, two former editors at the News of the World tabloid were hit with new charges today in the country’s phone hacking scandal. Prosecutors say Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks bribed public officials for stories and information. It emerged last year that journalists at the now-defunct News of the World routinely hacked voice-mails of celebrities, politicians and other figures in the news.
An end to the AIDS epidemic is now in sight. The U.N. nations AIDS program held out that hope today in its annual report. The report said some 34 million people worldwide were living with HIV, the AIDS virus, at the end of 2011. There were two-and-a-half million new infections, but that was down 20 percent from 2001. And deaths from AIDS fell to 1.7 million, more than half a million below the peak year of 2005.
The puppeteer who gave life to Elmo on Sesame Street resigned today amid allegations that he sexually abused young boys. The latest came in a lawsuit charging that Kevin Clash engaged in sexual behavior with a college student who was underage at the time. Clash then resigned, saying the issue was diverting attention from “Sesame Street.” He joined the PBS program 28 years ago and made Elmo one of its most popular characters.
Former New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman has died due to complications of lymphoma. Rudman served in the U.S. Senate from 1980 to 1993 and co-authored the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act in 1985. It was designed to balance the federal budget by 1991, but Congress kept rolling back the timetable. After leaving the Senate, Rudman co-founded the Concord Coalition, which still advocates a balanced budget. Warren Rudman was 82 years old.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.