The ” Lagarde List “

Editor’s Note (Ralph Turchiano) Re-Post Request for cross reference HSBC and Panama files. Original Post date 28 October 2012

Engineering Evil : Authenticity Still Requires further verification

Being on a List does not imply guilt

Current Source Info:


Keep Talking Greece

“Clicking on each image will open an enlarged image in a new window. This was done to make viewing easier.”

Billion-Dollar Penalty for Bank’s Money Washing



     MANHATTAN (CN) – Commerzbank must pay $1.45 billion to five state and federal regulators for facilitating Iran and the Sudan’s laundering of money, as well as helping the Japanese optics manufacturer Olympus pull off a massive accounting fraud.
     At $610 million, New York’s Department of Financial Services takes the lion’s share of the settlements with the Frankfurt bank on Thursday.
     The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York meanwhile will collect $300 million, the Federal Reserve takes $200 million, and Commerzbank owes another $172 million to both the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and U.S. Department of Justice.
     The penalties resolve six years of anti-money laundering violations, from 2002 to 2008, according to the deferred prosecution agreement.
     Prosecutors point to one email from 2003 to show that Commerzbank hid the violations from its New York branch.

Continue reading “Billion-Dollar Penalty for Bank’s Money Washing”

Top 1% Control 39% of World’s Wealth

Published: Friday, 31 May 2013 | 11:30 AM ET

By:  | CNBC Reporter & Editor
The Rich Get Richer

Friday, 31 May 2013 | 2:52 PM ET

The top 1 percent now controls 36 percent of the world’s wealth, according to the Boston Consulting Group. CNBC’s Robert Frank details some examples of how the wealthy are spending their money.

The wealthiest 1 percent now control 39 percent of the world’s wealth, and their share is likely to grow in the coming years, according to a new report.

The world’s total private wealth grew 7.8 percent last year to $135 trillion, according to the Boston Consulting Group’s Global Wealth report. The top 1 percent control $52.8 trillion, and those worth $5 million or more control nearly a quarter of the world’s wealth.

That concentration is likely to increase in the coming years as the wealth of the wealthy grows faster than overall global wealth. The number of millionaires in the world surged by 10 percent year, reaching 13.8 million. The study predicts that global wealth will grow around 4.8 percent a year over the next five years—though millionaires will see their wealth grow nearly twice as fast.

Those worth $5 million or more will see their wealth grow 8 percent, while those worth more than $100 million will see their wealth grow 9.2 percent. The $100-million-plus group will see their share of global wealth grow to 6.8 percent in 2017 from the current 5.5 percent.

What’s driving the wealth of the wealthy? It depends on the country. In the developed world—the U.S. and Europe— it’s mainly stocks. And stocks have been on a tear this year in the U.S., which has mainly benefited the top 5 percent, who own 60 percent of all individually held stocks.

(Read More: Surging Stock Market Cheers Up the Rich)

In developing markets, the main wealth creator is economic growth and savings. Yet the amount of wealth held in stocks and in offshore wealth (again mainly held by the wealthy) in developing countries is also growing. The amount of wealth held in equities in Asia (excluding Japan) surged by 21.9 percent in 2012.

(Read More: Why Millionaire Investors Are Holding On to Cash)

By CNBC’s Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter @robtfrank.|mod&par=xfinity


Greece: ‘Lagarde List’; ex premier Papandreou to be summoned

06 March, 11:35

(ANSAmed) – ATHENS, MARCH 6 – The Greek Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) is examining details of the bank accounts of the three relatives of former Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou whose names were removed from the so-called Lagarde list of wealthy Greek depositors, and is to provide the parliamentary committee probing Papaconstantinou’s handling of the list with a report soon, daily Kathimerini reported. Once the committee receives the report, it will summon the relatives and also seek testimony from Papaconstantinou, the latter’s successor and current PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos and former Socialist Premier George Papandreou. Former technocrat Premier Lucas Papademos is not expected to be summoned. On Tuesday the committee heard the testimony of Nikos Lekkas, head of inspections at SDOE, who reportedly refuted claims by SDOE chief Stelios Stasinopoulos that Lekkas had linked Papandreou’s mother, Margarita, to a 550-million-euro account on the Lagarde list.(ANSAmed).

The fake bomb detector that can also spot drugs, bank notes and truffles? The ADE-651 is the symbol of a dysfunctional state


Patrick Cockburn

Monday, 4 March 2013

If one object had to serve as a symbol Iraqi corruption and dysfunctionality, it might be the ADE-651 bomb detector.

Exposed as a fake long ago, it is still employed by the Iraqi security forces to check for explosives and weapons, and goes a long way to explaining how suicide bombers regularly pass through checkpoints undetected. The ADE-651 is a small hand-held plastic device with a silver-coloured wand that is supposed to twitch in the presence of arms and explosives, much like a divining rod. Its promotional material says it can also detect drugs, truffles, ivory and bank notes at distances of up to 1km and operates through walls and under water. It has no power source, but is supposedly charged by static electricity from the body of the operator. The only piece of technology in the ADE-651 is a tag, worth two or three pence, normally attached to items in shops to prevent theft.

The uselessness of this item was apparent from the beginning. Nevertheless, in 2008 the Iraqi Interior Ministry bought 800 of them for £20m and the following year a further 700 for £32m; Iraq was paying up to £60,000 for each unit made from materials worth £50 at most.

In Britain last year James McCormick, a former police officer from Liverpool and director of the security company ATSC which sold the devices, was charged with six counts of fraud. The device continues to be used across Iraq.

Why was the ADE-651 ordered in the first place, why were such enormous prices paid for it and why did it receive official endorsement for so long? Iraqis assume the reason is corruption rampant at all levels in state procurement.

Police officials confirm privately that they know the bomb detector doesn’t work. Police Captain Hussein Ali told me three years ago that “time and again we have found it is useless”. Why then go on using it? One suggestion is that many in the Iraqi security forces believe it is safer to pretend confidence in a fake bomb detector so they do not have to search a dangerous looking vehicle with possibly terminal results for themselves.

2013 Forbes Billionaires list: Record number of new entries appear on rich list, but Carlos Slim and Bill Gates still top the charts

An ‘old guard’ remain the richest people on earth

John Hall

Monday, 4 March 2013

A record number of new entries appear on the 2013 Forbes Billionaires list, but an old guard including Carlos Slim and Bill Gates remain the richest people on earth.

There are now 1,426 billionaires of the list, including 210 new entries from 42 countries, with the average wealth of those involved rising from $3.7 billion to $3.8 billion.

But despite a raft of new names appearing on the run-down, familiar figures such as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Carlos Slim are still top of the pile.

Click here for a gallery of Forbes’ richest people on earth

73-year-old Slim, a telecom mogul from Mexico, retains his spot as the richest person on earth for the fourth year in a row, with a total net worth of $73 billion – up $4 billion from last year thanks to surging stock prices on his assets.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates remains at number two, with his personal wealth rising $6 billion over the last 12 months to $67 billion.

The world’s third richest man, Amancio Ortega is the years biggest riser, with his personal fortune growing by a staggering $19.5 billion to $57 billion. The 76-year-old Spaniard controls around 60 per cent of clothing retailer Inditex, which operates under brand names including Zara, Massimo Dutti and Stradivarius.

The 2013 list features four times as many wealth gainers as losers, compared to an even match last year, with resurgent asset prices the driving force behind the rising wealth.

The US contributed 442 of the list’s 1426 billionaires, with the Asia-Pacific area contributing 386, Europe totalling 366, the remaining Americas numbering 129, and the Middle East and Africa hitting 103.

Forbes said the total wealth of the world’s billionaires now totals $5.4 trillion, up from $4.6 trillion.

2013 Forbes Billionaires list: the top 10

1. Carlos Slim Helu (Telecoms) $73 billion

2. Bill Gates (Microsoft) $67 billion

3. Amancio Ortega (Zara) $57 billion

4. Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway) $53.5 billion

5. Larry Ellison (Oracle) $43 billion

6. Charles Koch (Various) $34 billion

7. David Koch (Various) $34 billion

8. Li Ka-shing (Various) $31 billion

9. Lilianne Bettencourt and family (L’Oreal) $30 billion

10. Bernard Arnault (Louis Vuitton / Bulgari) $29 billion


Britain to India: Diamond in royal crown is ours

by Reuters|21 February 2013
Queen Alexandra wearing the Koh-i-Noor in her coronation crown (left) and a copy of the new cut of the Koh-i-Noor.
Queen Alexandra wearing the Koh-i-Noor in her coronation crown (left) and a copy of the new cut of the Koh-i-Noor.

Amritsar, India – British Prime Minister David Cameron says a giant diamond his country forced India to hand over in the colonial era that was set in the late Queen Elizabeth I’s crown will not be returned.

Speaking on the third and final day of a visit to India aimed at drumming up trade and investment, Cameron ruled out handing back the 105-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond, now on display in the Tower of London.

One of the world’s largest diamonds, some Indians – including independence leader Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson – have demanded its return to atone for Britain’s colonial past.

“I don’t think that’s the right approach,” Cameron told reporters on Wednesday after becoming the first serving British prime minister to voice regret about one of the bloodiest episodes in colonial India, a massacre of unarmed civilians in the city of Amritsar in 1919.

“It is the same question with the Elgin Marbles,” he said, referring to the classical Greek marble sculptures that Athens has long demanded be given back.

“The right answer is for the British Museum and other cultural institutions to do exactly what they do, which is to link up with other institutions around the world to make sure that the things which we have and look after so well are properly shared with people around the world.

“I certainly don’t believe in ‘returnism’, as it were. I don’t think that’s sensible.”

Britain’s then colonial governor-general of India arranged for the huge diamond to be presented to Queen Victoria in 1850.

If Kate Middleton, the wife of Prince William, who is second in line to the throne, eventually becomes queen consort she will don the crown holding the diamond on official occasions.

When Elizabeth II made a state visit to India to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s independence from Britain in 1997, many Indians demanded the return of the diamond.

Cameron is keen to tap into India’s economic rise, but says he is anxious to focus on the present and future rather than”reach back” into the past.

Revealed: How Then Governor Goodluck Jonathan Gave Obaigbena $1 Million From Bayelsa’s Poverty Alleviation Funds For Beyonce And Jay Z’s Visit To Nigeria

Posted: February 20, 2013 – 22:55
Posted by siteadmin

caption: Beyonce and Jayzee in Nigeria in October 2006
                    By SaharaReporters, New York

SaharaReporters has uncovered a document indicating that a million dollars of Bayelsa State’s poverty alleviation fund was spent by then Governor Goodluck Jonathan on bringing American entertainers Beyonce and Jay Z to Nigeria in 2006.

In a letter stamped and signed by Bayelsa officials, N150 million (approximately a million dollars in 2006) was released from the state’s poverty alleviation fund for the first ThisDay Music Festival in Lagos.

The document came to light after a controversy was ignited over how much money American “reality TV” star Kim Kardashian was paid for a brief visit to Nigeria.

Ms. Kardashian, star of a US TV show about her idle rich family and who shot to international fame after a sex tape featuring her and her rapper boyfriend went viral, was reportedly paid half a million dollars for the 24-hour-visit last week.

The sources who provided the 2006 document for Beyonce and Jay Z’s visit told Saharareporters that there was a shady financial link between the producers of some high profile entertainment events and the governors and other officials who control budgets at the state and federal levels. Mr. Obaigbena’s newspaper, ThisDay, is a major sponsor of entertainment events that brings US music stars as well as top public figures for flying visits to Nigeria in exchange for gargantuan paychecks.

“Mr. Obaigbena often lines up financial bonanzas from numerous governors, ministers and other top government officials to finance his jamborees,” said one of the sources who is based in the UK and is knowledgeable about such deals.

SaharaReporters obtained a letter from Mr. Obaigbena to the Bayelsa State government soliciting funds from the oil-producing state ahead of Nigeria’s 46th independence celebrations in 2006. The publisher wrote, “We invite you to partner with us as co-hosts of the festival.” The letter added: “With a total budget of $10 million, the co-host is expected to contribute a minimum of $2.5 million (two million five hundred thousand USD).”

At the bottom of the letter, minuted by hand and signed by then Governor Jonathan’s aides as well as the Bayelsa State accountant general are the words, “Release N150,000,000.00 (One hundred and fifty million naira) only to be drawn from the poverty alleviation subhead.”

One source told SaharaReporters that Mr. Obaigbena sent similar letters to other south-south states.

SaharaReporters could not ascertain how much of the released funds was paid directly to performers at the festival. There is no indication that Beyonce, one of the few entertainment stars internationally famous enough to only need one name, was aware that her performance was being subsidized by the poor people of Bayelsa.

But during Beyonce’s celebrated rendition of the Nigerian national anthem, pictures of Bayelsa State were projected onto the wall of the Lagos concert venue.

According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, 47% of Bayelsans live in poverty. The World Bank says that per capita gross domestic product in the Niger Delta is significantly below the country’s average. According to the state’s own 2005 development strategy, 80% of rural communities have no access to safe drinking water, a key indicator in judging poverty. In Yenagoa, the state capital and Bayelsa’s largest urban area, an estimated two out of every five residents do not have access to safe drinking water.

In 2005, as part of its UN-approved strategy to combat poverty, the state promised to make a fund of N100 million available as soft loans and micro-credit to Bayelsans. The allocated fund was N50 million less than Mr. Jonathan approved for Mr. Obaigbena’s music festival. That promise was made in the Bayelsa State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy, published by the United Nations Development Program and signed by then Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. A civil rights activist in Yenogoa told SaharaReporters that the state “has been a woeful failure in its poverty reduction program.”

The letter from Mr. Obaigbena to then-governor Goodluck Jonathan said the concert was necessary to show that the news from Nigeria was “not just…HIV/AIDS, conflicts, poverty, kidnapping, strife and riots.”

The publisher added: “This is the longest ever period of democracy in Nigeria, over seven years and counting! And a stable democracy means more investment and economic prosperity for all.”

The publisher went on to give reasons why the state government should contribute to the concert.

The stars’ performances would “tell the world, through music, that Nigeria’s time has come,” Mr. Obaigbena wrote. The letter added, “And once the good news catches on with the young and upwardly mobile, music loving new generation it will catch on with the world of investments and bountiful opportunities.”

In 2006, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan had just become governor of Bayelsa after his boss, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was impeached and convicted on corruption charges.  Mr. Jonathan was then elevated to Vice President to then President Umaru Yar’Adua. Mr. Yar’Adua’s death in 2010 enabled Mr. Jonathan, a zoologist whose PhD focused on tropical fish, to assume the presidency.

Since 2006, Mr. Obaigbena’s parent company, Leaders & Company, has produced a number of high-profile events that have seen such American stars as Rihanna, R Kelly, and Usher perform for Nigerians. The ticket prices for these concerts are usually out of reach of the “average” Nigerian. The events feature tickets that cost many tens of thousands of naira, usually reserved for “VIP access.” ThisDay has also hosted political luminaries like former US President Bill Clinton and former economic adviser to the Obama presidency, Lawrence Summers. At an Africa Rising concert in London, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell came on stage and danced to the popular Naija jam “Yahooze” by Olu Maintain.  

Exclusive: Cash for academies: Michael Gove ‘bribes’ schools to change their status

Claims taxpayers’ money is being spent on ‘buying off’ critics of the Education Secretary’s pet project

James Cusick, Richard Garner

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Officials from Michael Gove’s department are offering £65,000 “bribes” to convince reluctant headteachers to convert their schools to academies.

The sweeteners are being offered to schools which drop their opposition to academy status – sparking claims that taxpayers’ money is being spent on “buying off” critics of the Education Secretary’s pet project.

Teaching leaders described the incentives as “questionable” and “disturbing” at a time when overall education budgets are being cut.

The Independent understands £40,000 in payments have been offered to 32 schools in Lancashire alone, with similar sums offered to schools in other parts of the country. Some schools have also been offered £25,000 towards legal fees. In a letter to Mr Gove’s department obtained by this newspaper, Tony Roberts, from the NAHT headteachers’ union, criticises two “brokers” – officials from the Department for Education (DfE) tasked with converting state schools to academics – for offering payments to win over a reluctant group of state schools in Lancashire.

The DfE did not deny that incentives were being deployed, but said the additional cash was for “improvements” to be made in schools where it was necessary.

The sanctioned use of cash to persuade state school to make the switch to academies will be another embarrassment for Mr Gove.

The news has emerged after a leaked memo last week revealed the Education Secretary, pictured, is considering the outright privatisation of academies and free schools, enabling them to abandon their charitable status and become profit-making.

The rate of academy conversions is also deemed to be at a critical stage, with more progress urged before the next general election in 2015.

Previously, schools converting to academies have been told they would be spared the impact of budget cuts, but the offering of one-off payment appears to represent a stepping up of Mr Gove’s drive to roll out the programme.

Out of 484 primary schools in Lancashire, only four have opted for academy status. Although half the country’s 3,000 secondary schools are now academies – up from just around 200 at the time of the last election – Mr Gove is facing increasing resistance, especially from primary schools, to make the switch to academy status.

Only 6 per cent of state primaries have become academies.

In the letter to the DfE, Mr Roberts writes that “Lancashire schools do not wish to change their status, or even if they did, they do not need someone leaning on them to do so.”

He added, “In these times of financial stringency, the money that your brokers seem to have at their disposal would be better used to help schools maintain their core services.”

Teachers’ unions claim the cash incentives are part of a sanctioned drive by Mr Gove to ensure academy numbers continue to rise.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, reacted furiously to the exposé of the brokers’ bribery.

She told The Independent: “Across the country primary schools are being bullied into accepting academy status and when the bullying proves insufficient grounds to ‘persuade’ them, they are being offered financial inducements instead.” Ms Blower said huge amounts of taxpayers’ money was being spent by Mr Gove’s department on “engineering” academy conversions.

She said the practice contrasted with schools elsewhere which were struggling to improve crumbling buildings or to employ sufficient numbers of qualified teachers to assist special needs education.

“Mr Gove is not the secretary of state for free schools and academies, but all schools.”

The brokers were called in to the group of Lancashire schools, according the local council, after the performance of the county’s schools was described as “failing” by Mr Gove.

The Education Secretary made similar comments that were directed at state schools in North Yorkshire, Staffordshire and East Sussex.

Helen Denton, Lancashire’s executive director for children and young people, recently wrote to Mr Gove that his criticism of “middle-of-the road” performance was misplaced. She refuted the charges of “failing” schools and quoted official statistics on above-national-average ratings.

Ms Denton also told headteachers that they had no legal requirement “to meet DfE officials to discuss academies or any other issues if the governors of the school are not minded to.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said his members in the region and throughout England had been “incredibly suspicious” of the motives of the academy brokers.

“My feeling is that if you do not want to opt for academy status, that is a good enough answer in itself.”

A spokeswoman for the DfE said there was “nothing underhanded about this funding”, adding, “Schools which become academies are entitled to grants and legal fees to support the improvements.”

Money matters: Letter of complaint

This is a letter from a NAHT official in Lancashire to Gail Banks, the line manager of DfE academy about complaining about “brokers” operating in the county:

Dear Gail Banks,

Yesterday I received a report from a member of a Lancashire Schools’ cluster where… one of your brokers, offered £40,000 to each school in the cluster if they formed an academy trust.

Today, I received another report from a Diocesan meeting where he offered the same £40,000 per school to became an academy plus £25,000 on top for the legal fees on changing ownership of the land/buildings…

The fact that Lancashire has currently only four primary schools out of 484 who opted voluntarily for academy status… surely proves that Lancashire schools do not wish to change their status, or even if they did they do not need someone leaning on them [offer- ing them financial incentives] to do so.

Tony Roberts

Lancashire NAHT Branch Secretary


Intel Firm Paid CIA Nominee Well As He Left for White House

<!—->EEV: Reposted per request:

Feb. 4, 2013 – 01:14PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 4, 2013 – 05:29PM  |
President Barack Obama has nominated John Brennan (above) as CIA director. Financial disclosures related to Brennan's years in the private sector have raised new questions.

President Barack Obama has nominated John Brennan (above) as CIA director. Financial disclosures related to Brennan’s years in the private sector have raised new questions.   (Saul Loeb / AFP)

When John Brennan heads to Capitol Hill on Thursday, senators are expected to grill the prospective head of the CIA about his central role in the Obama administration’s expansive “targeted killing” program. They might also want to ask him a few things about his finances.

Brennan has spent most of his working life in government intelligence jobs, but he spent three years in the private sector just before joining Obama’s White House as counterterrorism adviser on Jan. 20, 2009. For that brief but profitable period, Brennan was the CEO of a little-known intelligence contractor called The Analysis Corporation, which does counterterrorism analysis for the U.S. government. (Since Brennan’s departure, TAC has been absorbed, through a merger, into a new firm called Sotera.)

A review of Brennan’s financial disclosure reports indicates that in 2009, TAC paid him a total of $169,923 in salary and bonus, which has not been previously reported. The financial disclosure reports, submitted as required of all White House employees, don’t say why he’d receive a bonus if he was leaving the company to join the government, or why he’d received such a large salary if he worked for the company for only 20 days that year.

In November 2008, two months before Brennan joined the Obama administration, TAC announced that the CEO was taking a “leave of absence” from the firm. That is, it is not clear that he was actually on the clock for the transition period before he received that $169,000.

“The payout is troubling,” said Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight. “If Brennan’s disclosures are accurate, in early 2009 he joined the Obama administration, but yet he was paid nearly $170,000 by his former firm for about three weeks of work or as part of a deferred compensation package. Conflict-of-interest rules might allow this, but it’s another example of questionable dealings for someone passing through the revolving door.”

“Who knows if this will come up during his confirmation hearing,” Amey said, “but it should.”

In 2008, according to a separate financial disclosure report, Brennan received $763,000 from TAC for the year.

A White House spokesman said that the $169,923 received in 2009 was primarily a bonus owed to Brennan for work during the first ten months of 2008. That was the period before his leave of absence from the company. The spokesman said that Brennan had a yearly salary at TAC of $257,000 plus bonus, and that once he went on a leave of absence his employment agreement was modified. The spokesman also said that Brennan forfeited part of a retention bonus at TAC by joining the federal government when he did.

TAC, from the beginning, was integral to the government’s counterterrorism watchlist program. The company said it “designed and maintained” the State Department’s TIPOFF list, an early version of the list.

Brennan left the federal government after 25 years on Nov. 2, 2005. The following day, TAC issued a press release announcing that Brennan would step in as the company’s CEO that Nov. 7.

As Wired’s Danger Room has reported, Brennan stayed close to the CIA after joining TAC and maintained ties to Director George Tenet and other agency officials.

“When Tenet released his memoir the following year,” Wired reported, “former aide Brennan feted him for a book signing at The Analysis Corporation’s McLean, Virginia campus.”

Since Brennan joined the Obama administration, his former firm has flourished as well. While he was CEO, TAC was purchased by a large security contracting firm called Global Strategies Group, which had various major U.S. contracts. In 2011, most of the assets of Global Strategies Group were acquired by a hedge fund and the firm was renamed Sotera Defense.

Sotera declined to provide a statement in time for this report.

Although the White House did not comment prior to this story’s publication, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor offered these comments after the story was published:

• “1) There is nothing inappropriate about John getting a payout in 2009 of amounts owed from his prior employment. Indeed, severing financial ties with prior employers is what the onboarding ethics process seeks to accomplish and indeed was approved by appropriate ethics officials. The 2009 report on which this payment appears was certified by ethics officials at the White House and at the OGE.

• 2) It is misleading to suggest that this is some secret payment that no one knew about before. Quite the contrary, the payment is on John’s PUBLIC financial disclosure form for 2009, which was filed on May 10, 2010. The White House announces on its website when the reports are available and any member of the press or public is entitled to request a copy of the report. John’s reports have been requested by various news outlets in the past nearly 3 years. Our records indicate that this particular report has been requested at least 7 times.”


This story was update to reflect comments received by C4ISR Journal from the White House after publication.

Spain’s PM denies receiving secret payments

Feb 2, 2013 19:36 Moscow Time

Spain’s PM denies receiving secret payments

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has denied media claims that he and other members of the governing Popular Party received secret payments.

“I have never received nor distributed undeclared money,” he said at an extraordinary session of his party discussing the El Pais newspaper allegations.

El Pais published photographs of unregistered payments to Popular Party members, including the former treasurer Luis Barcenas who is currently under investigation for money-laundering.

Spanish PM accused of corruption

Spain’s ruling People’s Party has denied accusations of double bookkeeping and setting up a slush fund to finance its leadership.

Spanish EL Pais newspaper published excerpts of handwritten accounts run by PM Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party, which showed 11 years of payments to Rajoy of 25,200 euros a year.

The fund received donations from companies, mostly building firms, and made regular payments of thousands of euros to several party leaders.

The report came as yet another blow to the reputation 57-year-old Rajoy. Thousand s of Spaniards poured into the streets, chanting ‘Thieves!’ and bearing placards reading ‘Resign Now!’.

Voice of Russia, Reuters, Interfax

World’s tea producers brew up a plan to raise prices : Global tea cartel formed to boost profits and control supply

AFP Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013

COLOMBO – The price of a cup of tea could rise after the world’s biggest producers agreed to join forces to boost profits, a Sri Lankan minister announced Wednesday.

After two days of talks in Colombo between Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, Indonesia, Malawi and Rwanda, which account for more than 50 per cent of global production, the nations announced the formation of the International Tea Producers’ Forum.

Sri Lanka’s Plantations Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said exporting nations had been trying to establish a forum for 80 years. “In that context, what we have just achieved is a historic land mark in the tea industry,” he said.

Efforts will initially focus on sharing knowledge and boosting demand for tea to raise prices, but he suggested more sophisticated – and controversial – methods such as supply controls would be raised in the future.

Production quotas “are not part of the objectives listed in the constitution, but I am sure these are matters which will be discussed some time in the future,” he added.

In 1994, Colombo proposed a tea cartel on the lines of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the crude oil cartel dominated by Saudi Arabia, but there was no unity among producing nations at the time.

“Price stability is one of the objectives to improve the livelihoods of tea small holders (farmers owning small plots of tea),” he said. “Another objective is to ensure high quality standards.”

Samarasinghe explained that unity among producers was “very important from a variety of aspects like foreign exchange earnings, income generation, employment opportunities and several other very useful aspects.”

Global tea prices are around US$2.5 (S$3.06) a kilo, down from about US$2.84 a year earlier, while world-wide consumption is set to rise marginally over one per cent this year, Sri Lanka tea officials said.

Sri Lanka’s tea promotion chief Janaki Kuruppu said prices were much lower compared to other beverages and noted there was room to increase the price of a cup of tea.

“People can pay a little more for tea,” Kuruppu said. “In Sri Lanka, tea is cheaper than bottled water.”

China and Iran, two of the big consumer nations, have been invited to be observers to the Forum. China is also the world’s biggest producer of green tea.

Middle-class Greeks to fork out over 40% of annual salary in tax: ” in order to qualify Greece for more bailouts”

Published: 12 January, 2013, 17:20 Edited: 12 January, 2013, 18:31

Athens passed new tax increases to boost revenue by US$3 billion to keep in line with previous commitments to creditors. The new measures limit family benefits and force the middle class to pay over 40 per cent of their annual salary in taxes.

Greek’s Conservative-led coalition has passed the new tax increases  to middle and high-income earners, self-employed and businesses.

The  new law increases the amount of income tax paid by those earning more  than US$26,000 a year, limits tax benefits for having children, revokes  tax breaks for farmers and increases corporate tax to 26 per cent from  20 per cent.

It also increased top income tax rate to 42 per cent  from 40 per cent for Greeks earning more than US$56,000 a year, which is  the higher-end of middle class average in Greece.

The new law  was part of an overall package approved past November in order to  qualify Greece for more bailouts in the future. It aims to save Greece  up to US$3 billion in 2013.

If the new tax changes would not have  been passed, then Greece would not qualify for more bailout money to be  transferred and the nation would have fallen short of paying its own  bills.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras stated in the  parliament that he had no other options and that the bill needed to be  approved.

“Otherwise, we would have had to have saved that 2.3  billion euro [US$3 billion] through salary and pension cuts,” he said.  “But we are making the savings in a socially just fashion.”

The  opposition argues that the changes would negatively impact Greek  citizens by putting more pressure on an already-stricken middle class.

But  the conservative-led government assures that the changes will lessen  the burden for salary earners and pensioners making less than US$33,000 a  year.

“We are not in favor of taxes,” Deputy Finance Minister Giorgos  Mavraganis stated. “But in the current situation we must lead the  country out of its impasse. Once we achieve stability we will proceed to  cut taxes and simplify the system.”

Greek’s financial crisis dilemma

Since 2009 when Greece’s economy began falling apart under its huge debt burden the country has become dependent on international rescue loans with a total of 240 billion euro provided to Athens. As of now, 149 billion euro has been distributed to Greece from the Troika of international lenders.

Just last month Greece has received another US$45.5 billion in frozen loans and now with the passage of the new tax bill it is on track to get another US$19.9 billion in the next few months.

Athens was forced to implemented harsh austerity measures to reduce deficit and bring down the debt level.

Trying to hold control of the economy at the end of 2012 Greece adopted a 2013 budget that involves 9.4 billion euro of spending cuts, mainly in state wages, pensions and benefits, all of which have already been significantly reduced over the past two years.

The decision resulted in strikes and protest across the country.

Tough austerity measures have also led to a drastic surge of  unemployment – in September 2012 it reached a record 26 per cent, which  is one of the lowest levels amongst the EU nations.

California Counties Want Millions From Banks for Fixing LIBOR




(CN) – Bank of America and other heavy hitters defrauded cities and counties by conspiring to fix, and lie about, the LIBOR rates, four California counties and cities and a Bay Area utilities district claim in separate federal antitrust complaints.

The London Interbank Offered Rate is the rate banks charge one another for short-term loans necessary to carry on their business. More than $300 trillion in financial derivatives are tied to LIBOR rates.

Barclays Bank last year settled criminal allegations of fixing LIBOR rates, leading to multiple lawsuits and investigations of major banks on at least two continents.

Barclays’ plea agreement is attached as an exhibit to Riverside’s 156-page filing.

Many many banks were accused of profiting by misreporting LIBOR rates, inflating or deflating them to profit from trades – in essence, picking advantageous rates after trades had been concluded.

The five federal complaints, all filed this week, came from the City of Riverside and the Riverside Public Financing Authority, in Los Angeles Federal Court; the County of San Diego, in San Diego Federal Court; San Mateo County, in Oakland Federal Court; and the City of Richmond and the East Bay Municipal Utility District, in separate complaints in San Francisco Federal Court. All have similar defendants and make similar charges.

They all seek disgorgement, restitution and treble damages for antitrust violations, fraud and deceit, negligent misrepresentation, interference with economic advantage, breach of faith and unjust enrichment.

Here are the defendants in Riverside’s complaint: Bank of America Corp.; Bank of America NA; Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd.; Barclays Bank PLC; Citigroup Inc.; Citibank NA; Cooperatieve Centrale Raiffeisen-Boerenleenbank BA (Rabobank); Credit Suisse Group AG; Deutsche Bank AG; HSBC Holdings PLC; HSBC Bank PLC; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; JPMorgan Chase Bank NA; Lloyds Banking Group PLC; HBOS PLC; Royal Bank of Canada; The Norinchukin Bank; Societe Generale SA; The Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC; UBS AG; Westlb AG; and Westdeutsche Immobilienbank AG.

All the plaintiffs are represented by Nanci Nishimura with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, of Burlingame, and by their house counsel.

Simon Burns, minister responsible for train fares, uses £80,000-a-year chauffeur-driven government car to ‘avoid overcrowded trains’

News is likely to provoke more anger from commuters still reeling from the New Year inflation-busting rise in train fares last week.

Rob Williams

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The minister responsible for rail fares, Simon Burns, is under fire today after it emerged that he commutes to work using a chauffeur-driven government car.

Burns, the Conservative MP for Chelmsford, travels the 35 miles between his home in Essex and Westminster using an £80,000-a-year departmental car service.

The news is likely to provoke more anger from commuters still reeling from the New Year inflation-busting rise in train fares last week.

The Department for Transport has defended Mr Burns’ use of a government car, saying it is permitted under the Ministerial Code.

According to a report in the Mail on Sunday Mr Burns uses a car to travel to work in order to avoid overcrowded trains.

A spokesman for passengers’ campaign group Railfuture told the newspaper: “It would be nice if the person who is setting these fare rises was also experiencing some of the congestion and overcrowding endured by ordinary, hard-pressed travellers.”

Mr Burns reportedly defended his regular use of the Department for Transport pool car by saying: “I have given up my second home in London and I commute to and from work carrying classified papers which I work on during my journey.”

Cabinet officials confirmed last night that there were no restrictions on ministers taking the “red boxes” that contain their government papers on public transport.

Transport minister Stephen Hammond revealed details about the department’s travel arrangements in parliamentary documents.

He said: “With the introduction of a departmental pool car service on 1 April 2012, individual ministers are no longer allocated government cars. The Secretary of State (Patrick McLoughlin) and Minister of State use the pool cars on a daily basis.

“I use the pool cars occasionally and also use the top-up service as business requires it.

“The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Norman Baker, used the car on an extremely occasional basis for journeys of less than three miles, the last date being 20 November 2012.”

Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who uncovered the arrangement through a parliamentary question, told the Mail on Sunday: “This looks to be an extremely poor use of taxpayers’ money, and a very bad example for a minister to set.”

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said non-classified documents could be taken on public transport.

She added: “The Ministerial Code provides for ministers to use a government car for home-to-office travel when working on classified papers.”

A DfT spokesman said: “The Minister of State does not have a home in London but uses his commute to work on official papers and so travels in a car provided by the Government Car Service for security reasons.

“The Ministerial Code permits ministers to use official cars for home-to-office journeys within a reasonable distance of London when they are working on classified papers.”

Workers making $30,000 will take a bigger hit on their pay than those earning $500,000 under new fiscal deal

By  Hayley Peterson

PUBLISHED: 00:00 EST, 3  January 2013 |  UPDATED: 06:25 EST, 4 January 2013


Middle-class workers will take a bigger hit  to their income proportionately than those earning between $200,000 and $500,000  under the new fiscal cliff deal, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy  Center.

Earners in the latter group will pay an  average 1.3 percent more – or an additional $2,711 – in taxes this year, while  workers making between $30,000 and $200,000 will see their paychecks shrink by  as much as 1.7 percent – or up to $1,784 – the D.C.-based think tank  reported.

Overall, nearly 80 percent of households will  pay more money to the federal government as a result of the fiscal cliff  deal.

Middle-class workers will take a bigger hit to their income proportionately than those earning between $200,000 and $500,000 under the new fiscal cliff deal,Middle-class workers will take a bigger hit to their  income proportionately than those earning between $200,000 and $500,000 under  the new fiscal cliff deal,

Nearly 80 percent of households will pay more money to the federal government as a result of the fiscal cliff deal 

Nearly 80 percent of households will pay more money to  the federal government as a result of the fiscal cliff deal

‘The economy needs a stimulus, but under the  agreement, taxes will go up in 2013 relative to 2012 – not only on high-income  households, as widely discussed, but also on every working man and woman in the  country, via the end of the payroll tax cut,’ said William G. Gale, co-director  of the Tax Policy Center.

‘For most households, the payroll tax takes a  far bigger bite than the income tax does, and the payroll tax cut therefore – as  [the Congressional Budget Office] and others have shown – was a more effective  stimulus than income tax cuts were, because the payroll tax cuts hit lower in  the income distribution and hence were more likely to be spent,’ he  added.

When the deal was passed by Congress late  Tuesday, President Obama said it prevented ‘a middle class take hike that could  have sent the economy back into recession’ and have a ‘severe impact’ on  American families.

‘Under this law, more than 98 percent of  Americans and 97 percent of small businesses will not see their income taxes go  up,’ he said.

To the contrary, the Tax Policy Center says  roughly 70 percent of Americans will see their income taxes rise as a result of  the deal. They won’t rise as much as they would have if no deal had been reached  and the fiscal cliff was triggered, but they will go up nonetheless.


While the lower brackets will take a bigger hit to their paychecks than those in the $200,000 to $500,000 bucket, their overall federal tax rate will remain smaller 

While the lower brackets will take a bigger hit to their  paychecks than those in the $200,000 to $500,000 bucket, their overall federal  tax rate will remain smaller

The average increase in tax bills for all  earners will be about $1,257.

While the lower brackets will take a bigger  hit to their paychecks than those in the $200,000 to $500,000 bucket, their  overall federal tax rate will remain smaller. And the biggest hit of all will  still be felt by the nation’s top income earners.

Obama made a tax hike on the nation’s  wealthiest central to his campaign for re-election.

Workers making more than $1 million will pay  an average 7.8 percent more – or an additional $170,341 – under the new  law.

The federal tax rate will be roughly 39  percent for that group, compared to 26 percent for those earning between  $200,000 and $500,000 and 14 percent for those making between $40,000 and  $50,000.

The average increase in tax bills for all earners will be about $1,257 

The average increase in tax bills for all earners will  be about $1,257


Workers making more than $1 million will pay an average 7.8 percent more - or an additional $170,341 - under the new law 

Workers making more than $1 million will pay an average  7.8 percent more – or an additional $170,341 – under the new law


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World’s rich get richer – Top 100 by 241 Billion

Posted by:         Posted date:  January 02, 2013


NEW YORK: The combined assets of the world’s 100 richest people grew by $241 billion in 2012 to almost $1.9 trillion, according to the Bloomberg business news agency.

The fastest fattening were the tycoons of the telecommunications and the retail industries. The top position in the rich list was retained by the 72-year-old Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim. Position Two was retained by Bill Gates.

Spain’s Amancio Ortega, 76, the owner of the Zara clothing chain, replaced America’s Warren Buffett as the world’s third richest person. Ortega also was first in terms of capital accumulation in 2012.


Rinehart, Australia’s richest person, dropped one rung to rank 39th on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, with her $US18.6 billion fortune falling 8 per cent, or $US1.6 billion – partly due to softer iron ore prices last year, and partly due to losing investments in media companies including Ten Network and Fairfax Media, owner of The Age. Ten and Fairfax shares fell 56 per cent and 29 per cent respectively last year, and Rinehart lost an estimated $150 million on her substantial stakes in each company.

By contrast Rupert Murdoch’s wealth jumped by $US2.9 billion to $US10.7 billion, courtesy of a 44 per cent rise in the value of his News Corporation shares as the company rebounded from the 2011 phone-hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World in Britain, and investors reacted positively to the proposal to spin off the company’s publishing assets from the profitable Fox Group, as News will be renamed.

The aggregate worth of the world’s top moguls grew by $US241 billion to $US1.9 trillion at December 31, according to the Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world’s 100 wealthiest individuals. Retail and telecoms fortunes surged about 20 per cent on average during the year. Of the 100 people who appeared on the final ranking of 2012, only 16 registered a net loss for the 12-month period.

“Last year was a great one for the world’s billionaires,” said John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of Red Apple Group, in an email written poolside on his BlackBerry in the Bahamas. “In 2013, they will continue looking for investments around the world … that will give them an advantage.”


Amancio Ortega, the Spaniard who founded retailer Inditex, was the year’s biggest gainer. The 76-year-old’s fortune increased $US22.2 billion to $US57.5 billion, as shares of Inditex, operator of the Zara chain, rose 66.7 per cent.

“It’s an amazing company that has done great and the gains are quite justified given its performance,” said Christodoulos Chaviaras, an analyst at Barclays in London. “Can they repeat that? It will be harder. A lot of the positive news is already reflected in the share price.”

Carlos Slim, the telecoms magnate who controls Mexico’s America Movil, maintained his title as the richest person in the world. The 72-year-old’s net worth rose $US13.4 billion, or 21.6 per cent, making him the second-biggest gainer by dollars.

Gains by Slim’s industrial conglomerate, Grupo Carso, and Grupo Financiero Inbursa, his banking and insurance operation, more than offset the decline posted by America Movil, the largest mobile phone operator in the Americas, whose shares fell 5.8 per cent.

“America Movil is no longer the growth story that it has been, given the increase in Latin American wireless penetration over the last five years,” said Chris King, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. “It continues to generate a very high amount of cash flow and has the best set of telecom assets across Latin America.”

According to King, one of Slim’s biggest challenges will be dealing with regulation in Mexico and Colombia designed to punish or even out the market share between America Movil and its competitors.


US software mogul Bill Gates, 57, ranks second on the list, trailing Slim by $US12.5 billion. The Microsoft co-founder added $US7 billion to his net worth. Microsoft stock accounts for less than 20 per cent of the billionaire’s fortune.

Warren Buffett, 82, lost his title as the world’s third-richest man to Ortega on August 6. The Berkshire Hathaway chairman gained $US5.1 billion during the year, even after donating 22.3 million Berkshire Class B shares in July to charity. The billionaire, who has pledged to give away most of his fortune, spent much of the year pressing for higher taxes on the wealthy.

Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, 86, is the world’s fifth-richest person with a $US42.9 billion fortune. The complex ownership structure behind Ikea, the world’s largest furniture retailer, became more transparent in August after Ikea’s franchisor published its financial performance publicly for the first time. His net worth rose 16.6 per cent last year.


Brazil’s Eike Batista, 56, was the year’s biggest loser by dollars, falling $US10.1 billion. The commodities maven, who vowed a year ago that he’d become the world’s wealthiest man by 2015, sold a 5.63 per cent stake in his EBX Group in March to Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development Co.

As part of the deal, he pledged an unspecified additional stake in 2019 if he fails to meet a 5 per cent annual return on the sovereign wealth fund’s $US2 billion investment. Batista now ranks 75th in the world with a $12.4 billion net worth. On March 27, he was worth $US34.5 billion and ranked 8th on the Bloomberg index.

Bernard Arnault, France’s richest man, gained $US8.1 billion as shares of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA and its publicly traded holding company, Christian Dior, soared. In May, the LVMH chairman’s net worth was lowered $US15 billion on the index because of the way his ownership stake in the world’s largest luxury goods company is structured.

Arnault, who is applying for Belgian citizenship for “personal” reasons, owns 70.4 per cent of Christian Dior, according to French regulatory filings. His net worth is valued at $US28.8 billion.’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, 48, added $US6.9 billion to his net worth as shares of the world’s largest online retailer rose 45 per cent.


Sheldon Adelson, gambling’s richest man, gained $US2.8 billion. The 79-year-old chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp, which operates casinos in Macau, Singapore and the US, received $US1.2 billion in December when the company paid a special dividend of $US2.75 a share.

Lui Che Woo, the founder of Galaxy Entertainment Group, was the biggest winner on the index by percentage gain. His fortune more than doubled to $US11.9 billion. Asia’s richest man, Li Ka-Shing, rose $US6.4 billion. The 84-year-old chairman of Hong Kong property developer Cheung Kong Holdings ranks 11th on the list with $US28.6 billion.

Zong Qinghou, head of China’s third-largest beverage maker, became the country’s richest man in September after disclosing his stake in Hangzhou Wahaha Group was more than double previous estimates. The 67-year-old had a net worth of $US15.8 billion. He is $US8.4 billion wealthier than Robin Li, founder of Baidu, China’s biggest internet search engine operator.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg lost $US5.2 billion during the year after the company’s shares fell 30 per cent following its initial public offering in May. Investors sued Facebook, the operator of the world’s largest social network, after its stock dropped following the largest technology IPO in history. The investors claim the company failed to disclose discussions it had with underwriters’ analysts about advertising revenue. Zuckerberg is worth $US12.3 billion.

The Kooza News Desk

Making Millions Is Easy if You Cheat, SEC Says




LOS ANGELES (CN) – An L.A.-area investment adviser cherry-picked trades to scoop up $2 million for himself, while losing $4.4 million for his customers, the SEC claims in court.


The SEC sued Aletheia Research and Management Inc. and its CEO Peter Eichler Jr., in Federal Court. Eichler, 54, of Pacific Palisades, founded Aletheia in 1997 and then ran it out of Santa Monica, as its owner, chairman, CEO and chief investment officer. He “was solely responsible for all investment decisions, including the fraudulent cherry-picking of options,” the SEC says in its 37-page complaint.

California suspended Aletheia’s corporate status on Oct. 1 for nonpayment of taxes and it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November, the SEC says.

The “heart” of Eichler’s “cherry-picking scheme” was that he “generally did not allocate a specific option trade to any one account until after the trade was executed,” the SEC says in its complaint. “Allocations of options trades were made hours and sometimes days after execution. This delay gave the defendants the opportunity to ‘cherry-pick’ – that is, allocate the winning trades to some accounts, and allocate the losing trades to other accounts. And that is exactly what the defendants did. They allocated the winning trades to certain favored accounts, including accounts personally held by Eichler as well as other select employees and clients, and allocated the losing trades to two disfavored hedge funds.”

The SEC claims: “Over the course of approximately 27 months, from mid-August 2009 through November 2011, the defendants’ cherry-picking scheme allowed the favored accounts to obtain approximately $4.14 million in profit (including roughly $2 million in profit to Eichler’s personal accounts), while the two disfavored hedge funds sustained trading losses of approximately $4.4 million.”

The SEC says in the complaint that “many investment advisers” do not allocate trades to specific accounts until after the trades are executed.

Eichler’s “disfavored hedge funds” were called Alethia Insider Index LP and Alethia Insider Index II LP, the SEC says. Investors in these funds were “primarily high net worth individuals,” the SEC says.

During the 27 months at issue, Eichler and his company made about 4,791 options trade for a total of $238.9 million, according to the complaint. Most were allocated more than an hour after execution, or after the options positions had closed – when Eichler knew whether it had won or lost, according to the complaint.

It seeks disgorgement and penalties and asks the judge to order Eichler in no uncertain terms not to do it again.

Central bankers gone wild

Central bankers rarely do radical, or even surprising, things. This week it happened twice. Hold on to your pinstripes.

December 14, 2012 06:19

Ben Bernanke gone wild

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke holds a press conference following a Federal Open Market Committee meeting at the Federal Reserve Bank headquaters December 12, 2012 in Washington, DC. The Federal Reserve announced it would continue its monthly purchase of $85 million in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securites unil the outlook for the labor market improves. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
What do you think?

BOSTON — Central bankers aren’t exactly the most exciting people.

Sure, they’re smart.

Yes, they understand the complex interplay of economics, finance, politics, markets and all the other factors that make the global economy fly or fizzle.

But they’re often, well, predictable.

And when it comes to explaining the mysterious workings of the global economy they’re often, to be polite, incomprehensibly dull.

Still don’t believe me?

Check out this bit of poetry taken directly from the minutes of the Oct. 23 Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee meeting (and if it doesn’t make perfect sense, no need to decipher it):

“The Manager of the System Open Market Account (SOMA) reported on developments in domestic and foreign financial markets during the period since the FOMC met on September 12-13, 2012. The Manager also reported on System open market operations over the intermeeting period, focusing on the ongoing reinvestment into agency-guaranteed mortgage-backed securities (MBS) of principal payments received on SOMA holdings of agency debt and agency-guaranteed MBS and the purchases of MBS authorized at the September FOMC meeting. By unanimous vote, the Committee ratified the Desk’s domestic transactions over the intermeeting period. There were no intervention operations in foreign currencies for the System’s account over the intermeeting period.”

The jargon is no different in Brussels, London, Tokyo, Beijing or other places around the world where pinstriped policymakers congregate and pontificate.

But sometimes even central bankers can be perfectly clear.

They can also, apparently, be surprising.

It happened this week in both the world’s largest economy (the US) and the world’s largest economic bloc (the European Union), so it’s best you pay attention.

The implications of these remarkable central bank moves could have very real implications for you, me and everyone else on planet earth.

Let’s start with the US Federal Reserve, which did something that it’s never done before: It tied its actions to actual, concrete numbers in the economy.

The Fed said it would keep stimulating the weak US economy until the nation’s unemployment rate fell to 6.5 percent (it’s now at 7.7 percent). It will also keep interest rates historically low as long as inflation in the US remains under 2.5 percent.

That may not sound radical, but it is.

That’s because it’s the first time the US central bank has used such explicit targets.

Why the switch?

The Fed hopes it will be a more transparent way to let markets know its plans. “We think it’s a better form of communication,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said.

But more importantly, the use of explicit “guideposts” signals that the Fed is far more concerned about the weak employment situation in America than it is with its primary worry of keeping inflation under control.

The move is part of an evolution in central bank thinking that’s been pushed, in particular, by the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Charles Evans.

Here’s how Evans described his thinking, way back in 2011:

“Imagine that inflation was running at 5 percent against our inflation objective of 2 percent. Is there a doubt that any central banker worth their salt would be reacting strongly to fight this high inflation rate? No, there isn’t any doubt. They would be acting as if their hair was on fire. We should be similarly energized about improving conditions in the labor market.”

So it’s burn, baby, burn until the job market improves.

That means we should expect the Fed’s loose monetary policy to continue at least into 2015 when — fingers crossed — the US jobless rate is forecast to hit that 6.5 percent target.

Meanwhile in Europe, the whiff of radicalism this week mixed with the stale, corpse-like odor of economic decline triggered by the ongoing euro crisis.

European finance ministers agreed — for the first time — to place between 100 and 200 banks across Europe under the supervision of the European Central Bank.

The measure, which still needs approval by the European Parliament, is a giant step towards the tighter economic integration necessary to bring the euro crisis under control.

Moreover, the Europeans only began talking about a move back in June. Getting anything done in Europe in six months is a major accomplishment.

Here’s how The New York Times speculated on what the development could eventually mean:

“Such measures could include a unified system, and perhaps shared euro area resources, to ensure failing banks are closed in an orderly fashion. This could be followed, in time, by measures intended to reinforce economic and monetary union, including, possibly, the creation of a shared fund that could be used to shore up the economies of vulnerable members of the euro zone.”

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi called the unified banking supervision an “important step.”

Even grumpy German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed happy with the decision, calling it “a big step toward more trust and confidence in the euro zone.”

So there you go, world: central bankers gone wild.

Let’s see where this party goes from here.


Officials defend decision not to prosecute in money-laundering case despite HSBC’s ‘blatant failure’ to implement controls

EEV: So the Investors pay while the criminals once again go free 

HSBC’s record $1.9bn fine preferable to prosecution, US authorities insist

  • Dominic Rushe in New York and Jill Treanor in London
  •,      Tuesday 11 December 2012 15.37 EST
Lanny Breuer, HSBC

Assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer said taking away HSBC’s US banking licence could have cost thousands of jobs. Photograph: Richard Drew/AP

US authorities defended their decision not to prosecute HSBC for accepting the tainted money of rogue states and drug lords on Tuesday, insisting that a $1.9bn fine for a litany of offences was preferable to the “collateral consequences” of taking the bank to court.

Announcing the record fine at a press conference in New York, assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer said that despite HSBC”s “blatant failure” to implement anti-money laundering controls and its wilful flouting of US sanctions, the consequences of a criminal prosecution would have been dire.

Had the US authorities decided to press criminal charges, HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking licence in the US, the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilised.

HSBC, Britain’s biggest bank, said it was “profoundly sorry” for what it called “past mistakes” that allowed terrorists and narcotics traffickers to move billions around the financial system and circumvent US banking laws. Breuer said Mexican drug traffickers deposited hundreds of thousands of dollars each day in HSBC accounts.

The bank processed cash for Mexico‘s Sinaloa cartel, regarded as the most powerful and deadly drug gang in the world, among others. At least $881m in drug trafficking money was laundered throughout HSBC accounts. In order to handle the “staggering amounts of cash”, the bank even widened the windows at some branches to allow tellers to accept larger boxes of money.

HSBC also helped rogue states including Libya, Sudan, Burma and Iran to work around US rules banning them from using US financial system in a scheme that went on for decades.

Breuer was pressed on why the US authorities had agreed to a deferred prosecution deal for the bank. He dismissed accusations that prosecutors had not been hard enough and said that the Justice Department had looked at the “collateral consequences” to prosecuting the HSBC or taking away its US banking licence. Such a move could have cost thousands of jobs, he said.

HSBC has already sacked all the senior staff involved in the scandal, and agreed to stringent monitoring – the first time a foreign bank has agreed to such oversight. “In this day and age we have to evaluate that innocent people will face very big consequences if you make a decision,” said Breuer. “I don’t think anyone is alleging that HSBC was the mastermind of the scheme,” he said.  Rather it was their “incredibly lax” monitoring that was to blame. “HSBC was a vital player,” he said. “But they are not the Sinaloa cartel.”

Breuer added that a “sword of Damocles” was now hanging over HSBC and that any future transgressions would have dire consequences for the bank. “HSBC is being held accountable for stunning failures of oversight – and worse, that led the bank to permit narcotics traffickers and others to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through HSBC subsidiaries and to facilitate hundreds of millions more in transactions with sanctioned countries.”

In Mexico the bank “severely understaffed” its compliance department and failed to implement an anti-money laundering programme despite evidence of serious risks. A complex scheme known as the black market peso exchange (BMPE) was used to launder the cash.

Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney, said: “New York is the centre of international finance, and those who use our banks as a vehicle for international crime will not be tolerated.”

Stuart Gulliver, the chief executive of HSBC, once again apologised for the scandal. He said: “We accept responsibility for our past mistakes. We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again.” He insisted HSBC was “a fundamentally different organisation” now.

It is the largest ever fine for such an offence and even greater than the £940m the bank had feared it faced after the allegations first surfaced in the summer in a report by the US Senate.

The fine for HSBC came a day after Standard Chartered paid £415m to US regulators, and as banks such as Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS brace for a wave of fines in coming days for attempting to rig the Libor inter-bank lending rate following the £290m penalty levied on Barclays in June.

As part of the deal, HSBC has undertaken a five-year agreement with the US department of justice under which it will install an independent monitor to assess reformed internal controls. The bank’s top executives will defer part of their bonuses for the whole of the five-year period, while bonuses have been clawed back from a number of former and current executives, including those in the US directly involved at the time.

John Coffee, a professor of law at Columbia Law School in New York, said the fine was consistent with how US regulators have been treating bank infractions in recent years. “These days they rarely sue individuals in any meaningful way when the entity will settle. This is largely a function of resource constraints, but also risk aversion, and a willingness to take the course of least resistance,” he said.

Despite the size of the fine, HSBC’s shares on the London stock exchange rose by 2.8p to 644p. Last month HSBC announced third-quarter pre-tax profits to $3.5bn (£2.2bn).

Ian Gordon, banks analyst at Investec, said the fine was slightly lower than the $2bn he had been pencilling in to his forecasts. But he said: “HSBC’s settlement with the US authorities will include a deferred prosecution agreement with the department of justice of five years’ duration. Given HSBC’s ongoing US business and other continuing conduct investigations, this sword of Damocles is not without teeth, albeit based on what we know, we are regarding the $1.921bn settlement as de facto ‘final’.”


Politician threatens the Daily Telegraph if it exposes political corruption

The minister and a warning to the Telegraph before expenses story

Maria Miller’s advisers warned The Daily Telegraph to consider the minister’s role in implementing the Leveson Report before this newspaper published details of her expenses.

The minister and a warning to the Telegraph before expenses story

Maria Miller Photo: EPA

By Claire Newell and Holly Watt

10:00PM GMT 11 Dec 2012

The Culture Secretary’s special adviser said she wanted to “flag up” the Cabinet minister’s connection to press regulation after reporters established that Mrs Miller’s parents lived in her taxpayer-funded second home.

On Monday after initially refusing to answer questions about the controversial claims, Mrs Miller and her advisers indicated that this newspaper had timed its disclosures to overshadow Monday’s announcement about same-sex marriage.

The Daily Telegraph has decided to disclose details of the private conversations amid widespread concern about the potential dangers of politicians being given a role in overseeing the regulation of the press.

This newspaper first approached the Culture Secretary’s office on Thursday afternoon last week, a day before David Cameron announced that the Government would be backing gay marriage and allowing ceremonies to take place in some churches.

When a reporter approached Mrs Miller’s office last Thursday, her special adviser, Joanna Hindley, pointed out that the Editor of The Daily Telegraph was involved in meetings with the Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary over implementing the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson.

“Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors’ meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I am just going to kind of flag up that connection for you to think about,” said Miss Hindley.

Miss Hindley also said the reporter should discuss the issue with “people a little higher up your organisation”.

Miss Hindley immediately contacted The Daily Telegraph’s head of public affairs to raise concerns about the story. The newspaper decided to delay publication in order to ensure the facts were correct.

Having carried out further checks, the newspaper concluded that the story was accurate and decided to publish the article at the first opportunity, meaning it appeared on the day same-sex marriage was debated in the Commons.

Miss Hindley also accused The Daily Telegraph of harassing Mrs Miller’s father, John Lewis.

In fact, reporters had a brief conversation with Mr Lewis in order to establish how long he had lived with Mrs Miller. Over the course of the conversation, Mr Lewis said he enjoyed reading The Daily Telegraph.

Mrs Miller also contacted The Daily Telegraph to complain about her parents being approached.

“Irrespective of whatever you are investigating, I cannot see a justification for this family intrusion. I should be grateful if you could confirm that you now understand the basis of my concern and that on reflection this could have been handled differently,” wrote Mrs Miller.

She also claimed that the journalist had not identified herself at the start of the conversation, which was inaccurate.

Mrs Miller was on Monday reported to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards by the Labour MP John Mann.

Mr Mann said that the arrangement was “identical” to that of the former Labour minister Tony McNulty, who in 2009 was required to pay back more than £13,000 in expenses claimed on a second home occupied by his parents.

Mrs Miller claimed more than £90,000 on a house in Wimbledon, south-west London, between 2005 and 2009, where her parents lived with her family.

A spokesman for Mrs Miller said the parents lived with the family “as dependants.” The parliamentary commissioner John Lyon stated in his report on Mr McNulty that this was unacceptable.

Aides for Mrs Miller also insisted that her arrangements were approved by the parliamentary fees office and audited twice. Mr McNulty’s expenses were also approved by the fees office, while Sir Thomas Legg, who carried out an audit of MPs’ expenses, emphasised that his review was limited in scope and pointed out that the fees office was “vulnerable” to MPs’ interests.

Sir Thomas concluded that MPs, including David Laws, who subsequently resigned from the Government over his expenses, had no issues.

Mother Of Former Greek PM Papandreou Linked To $714 Million Swiss Bank Account

Dec.  3, 2012,  4:22 PM

George Papandreou

pasokphotos via  Flickr

The so-called “Lagarde  List” is causing trouble in Greece again, with new reports linking it to the  very top levels of political society.

On Sunday two Greek weekly magazines, To  Vima and Proto Thema, reported that Margarita Papandreou, mother of former  Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, had been linked to a mysterious Swiss  bank account by members of the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE).

The largest figure on the Lagarde List was a 550 million euro deposit ($714  million) under the name Maria Panteli, but according to reports in To Vima,  Nikolaos Lekkas, the Manager-Comptroller of SDOE, said that, “behind the biggest  deposit on the list is Mrs. Margarita Papandreou.”

Lekkas has since denied every mentioning Margarita Papendreou’s name, according  to E Kathimerini.

The Papandreous have come out against the reports too. “The publications… are  clearly targeting me and the policies I implemented against all manner of  political and personal interests,” George Papandreou said in a statement in  response to the articles. His mother, who had been married to former Prime  Minister Andreas Papandreou, said the article was a personal attack on her  family, according  to Greek Reporter.

While George Papandreou stepped down from the Prime Ministers office in 2011,  he remains a member of parliament. His mother has an interesting history too, as  Zero Hedge notes, born as Margaret Chant in the US and meeting her future  husband at the University of Minnessota where he was a (married)  professor.

Read more:

Give back our money, savers yell at Spain banks


News @ AsiaOne


Furious Spaniards who say banks cheated them of their savings took to the streets demanding that the bailed-out lenders give them their money back. -AFP Sat, Dec 01, 2012 AsiaOne


MADRID – Furious Spaniards who say banks cheated them of their savings took to the streets on Saturday demanding that the bailed-out lenders give them their money back.


“Thieves! Where is our money?” bellowed a crowd of some 1,000 protestors, many of them elderly, outside the central bank in Madrid before marching on the offices of Bankia, the ruined finance giant.


The protestors say Bankia told them it was putting their money in secure savings products but actually sold them “preferential shares” as it scrambled to raise funds after the financial crisis started in 2008.


Now that Bankia and other lenders have collapsed and had to be rescued with funds from Spain’s European partners, customers stand to lose a big chunk of their savings.


The banking consumers’ group ADICAE, which has brought legal action against Bankia, planned similar demonstrations in more than 20 towns on Saturday.


Its president Manuel Pardos said in a statement the customers were “victims of a massive fraud” and were now being subjected to “illegal imposed losses”.


The European Union on Wednesday gave a green light for the payment of the first slice of the rescue aid, some 37 billion euros (S$58 billion), for Bankia and three other Spanish banks.


To meet the conditions demanded by Brussels, Bankia said holders of the so-called “preferentials” would be repaid in shares worth only 61 per cent of the value of the money they put in the bank.


“They want to take away 40 per cent from us,” said one protestor, Paloma, 59, who put 25,000 euros into preferential shares, being told she would get the money back after five years.


“I spent 25 years saving a little each day and now when I need it they won’t give it to me,” said Ms Paloma, who asked not to be identified by her surname.


Spanish banks were brought low by the collapse of a construction boom in 2008 that threw millions into unemployment and poverty. Spain is deep in recession, with one in four workers unemployed.


“They should give back all the money because now in the crisis we don’t have any,” Ms Paloma said.




Germany displaces China as US Treasury’s currency villain

The US Treasury has issued a damning criticism of Germany’s chronic trade surplus in its annual report on worldwide exchange rate abuse, although it stopped short of labelling the country a currency manipulator.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel turns to a panel showing a two Euro coin during the presentation of a special edition of the coin at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany

The report said Germany’s current account surplus is running at 6.3pc of GDP Photo: AP

6:53PM GMT 28 Nov 2012

Treasury officials told Congress that internal balances within the eurozone are disrupting the global trade structure, with almost nothing being done by north Europeans states to curb their huge surpluses.

The report said Germany’s current account surplus is running at 6.3pc of GDP, and Holland is even worse at 9.5pc. Yet the countries still cleave to fiscal austerity policies that constrict internal demand.

The EU’s new tool for cracking down on intra-EMU imbalances is “asymmetric” and does not give “sufficient attention to countries with large and sustained external surpluses like Germany”.

While the eurozone as a whole is roughly in trade balance, the EMU regime of austerity in the South without offsetting stimulus in the North is creating a contractinary bias, holding back global recovery.

The US Treasury said eurozone surplus states have “available room” for fiscal stimulus but refuse to act, despite repeated pledges by EU leaders that more must be done to foster growth. “They have not yet made any concrete proposals capable of yielding meaningful near-term results.”

Germany’s permanent surplus is in stark contrast to the shift under way in Asia. China has “partially succeeded in shifting away from a reliance on exports for growth”, and has slashed its surplus to 2.6pc from 10.1pc in 2007.

While the yuan remains “significantly overvalued”, China’s has stopped building reserves to hold down it currency and has seen a 40pc appreciation against the dollar since 2005 in real terms. Double-digit wage growth is closing thecurrency gap by oither means.

A chart published in the report shows that Germany has overtaken China to become the biggest single source of global trade imbalance, alone accounting for a large chunk of the US deficit.

Switzerland is top sinner with a surplus of 13pc GDP, though the report says the country faces unique circumstances as a safe-haven battling deflation.

The Swiss National Bank has bought $230bn in foreign bonds since mid 2011 to hold the franc, more than China, Russia, Saudia Arabia, Brazil and India combined.

The US Treasury’s shift in focus away from China – and towards Germany’s disguised mercantilism – reflects mounting irritation in Washington over North Europe’s “free-rider” strategy, which relies on exploiting global demand rather than generating it at home.

The US Treasury said China still needs to do more to wean itself off investment – almost 50pc of GDP – and boost consumption instead. It called for a change in the tax structure, reform of the big state enterprises, and an end to financial controls that force up the savings rate. There is concern that China’s surplus will rise again over coming years unless Beijing pushes through radical reforms.

The tone of the report is conciliatory, a far cry from the hot rhetoric of the US election campaign. Republican candidate Mitt Romney had vowed to label China a currency manipulator from “day one”, a move that would have entailed trade sanctions and an ugly turn in superpower relations.

A separate report from the International Monetary Fund said China’s excess credit growth and investment have moved into “dangerous territory” and has begun to impose major costs on China itself.

The country spending 10pc of GDP more on investment than the Asian tigers at the peak of the investment bubble before onset of the East Asian meltdown in the late 1990s.

The Fund said the excesses are unlikely to lead to the sort of sudden-stop crisis seen in Thailand, Indonesia and Korea during that episode, since those countries relied on dollar funding whereas China’s credit comes from internal savings, but there is disguised damage nevertheless. Rampant over-investment acts through complex channels as a transfer of income from families and small businesses to big state firms, distorting the whole economic system over time.

The IMF said there is little doubt that investment in plant and infrastructure has driven China’s great boom over the last thirty years but the law of diminishing returns is setting in.

“The marginal contribution of an extra unit of investment to growth has been falling, necessitating ever larger increases to generate an equal amount of growth. Now with investment to GDP already close to 50 percent, the current growth model may have run its course,” it said.

Swiss prosecutors say death of Russian whistle blower will not derail huge fraud investigation


Alexander Perepilichnyy, a 44-year-old businessman who left Russia three years ago, was found dead outside his luxury mansion on an exclusive private estate in Surrey two weeks ago


Jerome Taylor

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Prosecutors in Switzerland say the sudden death of a Russian whistle blower who was helping them uncover a money laundering network will not derail their investigation.

Alexander Perepilichnyy, a 44-year-old businessman who left Russia three years ago, was found dead outside his luxury mansion on an exclusive private estate in Surrey two weeks ago.

The Independent revealed today that he was helping investigators uncover a network of Swiss bank accounts that were used by Moscow tax officials who became incredibly wealthy in the immediate aftermath of an enormous fraud that cost Russian tax payers £230m.

In a statement the Swiss Attorney General’s office told The Independent that the investigation remained on-going and that prosecutors were “still hearing [from] different witnesses”.

“Concerning the death of Mr Perepilichnyy and its consequences on the criminal proceedings, we’d like to stress that our strength resides in our ability to minimise the influence of such a regretful event on our investigation,” the statement read. “A good cooperation with other judicial authorities is also essential to carry on our investigation efficiently.”

The statement added: “In the course of the investigation, the [Office of the Attorney General] has ordered several Swiss bank accounts blocked and the flow of suspicious assets was analyzed. The investigation is continually turning up new findings that require additional examination. No further information is being provided at present in order not to prejudice the ongoing investigations.”

Prosecutors have however confirmed that Russia had requested updates on the investigation through a mutual legal assistance request – a mechanism by which countries officially ask for information from police for on-going investigations. The revelation could indicate that Russian police are looking to open their own investigation into allegations of money laundering but given the country’s historical refusal to go after those responsible for Russia’s largest declared tax fraud it might seem unlikely.

Mr Perepilichnyy brought Swiss prosecutors a treasure trove of information earlier this year which is showed how a number of tax officials in Moscow used shell corporations and Swiss bank accounts to move millions of dollars and pay for luxury properties in Dubai and Montenegro.

Months earlier the same officials approved of a £230m tax rebate for a company that was once owned by Hermitage Capital Management, a British investment fund. Ownership of the subsidiaries of Hermitage had been illegally transferred using stolen corporate seals months before the tax rebate was applied for. The money disappeared into a little known Moscow bank which was liquidated soon afterwards.

Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer, was hired by Hermitage to investigate the scam. After months of forensic examinations he publicly pointed the finger of blame at a network of Russian Interior Ministry officials and underworld figures. Rather than investigate the fraud, police arrested Magnitsky and handed him over to the very men he had accused. He died nine months later in November 2009 after months of brutal treatment and deliberately withdrawn medication.

The case has since become a major source of international embarrassment for Russia as well as generating anger at home over corruption and corporate criminality. A new law in the United States which is named after Magnitsky and calls for visa bans on officials involved in his death is expected to be approved soon after it was voted overwhelmingly for by lawmakers.

A $230 million fraud – and a trail of death that just keeps growing


Alexander Perepilichnyy is the fourth person connected to a murky tax case to have met a suspicious end


Jerome Taylor

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

With its sweeping vistas of the Persian Gulf and central location in the Middle East’s glitziest city, Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah is one of the most exclusive patches of real estate in the world. Created in the shape of a palm tree, the artificial archipelago is home to the cream of a city already bulging with the super wealthy. It’s not the kind of place you might expect a lowly Moscow tax official with a declared family annual income of $38,000 to own a $3 million beach front villa. How could someone with a comparatively low-level civil service job become so wealthy?

That is the question Swiss prosecutors are currently probing as part of a complicated investigation into an alleged Russian money laundering scheme through Swiss bank accounts that began when a whistle blower handed them a damning dossier of evidence at the start of this year. The whistle blower, Alexander Perepilichnyy, died two weeks ago suddenly at the age of 44. But the investigation continues.

The origins of this tale, which sounds like a KGB era thriller but is in fact a depressingly real indictment of modern day Russia, can be traced back to a cold jail cell in Burtyrka Prison in November 2009 where Sergei Magnitsky, a pioneering Moscow lawyer lay dying.

Magnitsky, a charismatic and forensically bright father of two, had been hired by the British based investment fund Hermitage Capital Management to investigate a monumental tax fraud which had been carried out against them. Nine months earlier he pointed the finger of blame at a network of Interior Ministry officials and Russian underworld figures expecting his revelation to be the start of a sustained police investigation into how $230million in Russian taxpayers’ money was squirrelled away in one of Russia’s largest declared frauds.

Instead he was arrested by the very men he had accused. Over the months he was held in increasingly brutal conditions and was refused vital medication. On 16 November he slipped into a coma and died.

Magnitsky’s death could have been just another name in a long list of prison fatalities. Instead it lit a fire that rallied those seeking to end the culture of corruption and impunity among government officials in Russia and has caused diplomatic rifts that have reverberated around the world.

What Magnitsky uncovered was as follows. In late 2007 Russian police raided the offices of Hermitage Capital Management, a multi-billion pound investment fund set up by the British businessman Bill Browder, ostensibly looking for information on an investor. During that raid company seals and corporate certificates were taken into evidence. Over the following months those seals were used, with the complicity of corrupt court and tax officials, to transfer ownership of a Hermitage subsidiary and apply for a tax rebate. On December 24th 2007, tax officials signed off on a 5.4 billion rouble ($230m) rebate. The money was wired to Universal Savings Bank, a little known bank that was quickly liquidated following the transfer.

The Russian police admit that the crime took place but they have pinned the blame on a retired sawmill worker, a burglar and two others who died suddenly in the immediate months following the fraud. The people Magnitsky named, meanwhile, were promoted and the Interior Ministry later launched a posthumous investigation of Hermitage’s own lawyer, accusing him of being the real mastermind behind the fraud. The tax officials who signed off on the deal, the Russian government insisted, were innocent pawns tricked into enabling the fraudulent request.

In a twist that could come straight out of a spy novel, the Interior Ministry admitted earlier this year that records from Universal Savings Bank which police could have used to uncover what happened to much of the money were destroyed in a truck that crashed and exploded in 2008.

But Russia’s unwillingness to prosecute the real perpetrators of the scam has not stopped Mr Browder from using his own tenacity, resources and a team of disaffected Russian business experts to uncover new details through their own investigations. The results are published regularly on the website, a prominent gathering point for Russians who are angered by corruption in their homeland.

For much of the first two years, Mr Browder’s investigation team primarily concentrated on the officials who organised Magnitsky’s detention. But a little over a year ago they announced that a Russian businessman had come to them with new details of how some of the stolen money was laundered.

According to a piece published in April in the US business weekly Barron’s, the whistle blower was part of a network who had helped the tax officials who signed off on the Hermitage scam hide millions of pounds in Swiss bank accounts in the immediate aftermath.

Hermitage have never named who the super grass was but The Independent has learned that he was Mr Perepilichnyy, a seemingly healthy 44-year-old business magnate from Surrey who died outside his home two weeks ago.

What Perepilichnyy brought to the table was a game changer in that it called into question the Interior Ministry’s insistence that the tax officials had been honestly duped employees. He handed over records from two secret accounts at a Credit Suisse branch in Zurich. They showed that in the months after the fraudulent Hermitage tax claim was approved by the Moscow tax bureau run by Olga Stepanova, her husband Vladlen received $10.9m through a shell corporation registered in Cyprus. The Swiss accounts were also used to make payments for a villa in Montenegro and a palatial mansion in Dubai’s Palm Island. Two more condos in the same Dubai development were bought for of Stepanova’s tax office deputies, Olga Tsareva and Elena Anisimova.

Further enquiries by Hermitage, meanwhile, revealed that the Stepanova family lived in a sprawling avant garde mansion designed by the feted Russian architect Alexei Kozyr in one of Moscow’s most exclusive districts. This from a family who had filed declared income returns that averaged out at $38,000 a year.

When the details were first revealed earlier this year it caused a storm in sections of the Russian press. Swiss prosecutors, meanwhile, announced that they were opening an investigation and had frozen assets inside the Credit Suisse accounts until the matter was resolved.

Mrs Stepnova has always refused to speak to the press. Her husband gave an interview to a Russian radio station in which he insisted that the Dubai properties were bought with his own legitimately gained money and that he was divorced from his wife – though he admitted still regularly travelling to Dubai with her. Asked why he thought his financial situation had been published he blamed Alexander Perepilichnyy, saying he had been in charge of investing on his behalf.

Mr Perepilichnyy’s early demise will inevitably mean he will no longer be able to bring any new evidence to the table. But those with knowledge of the investigation believe he had already handed over what he knew. Swiss prosecutors are confident that his death will not derail their work. Their investigation has only just begun.–and-a-trail-of-death-that-just-keeps-growing-8360444.html#

Filthy rich: Britain’s favourite dictatorship had so much oil its heiresses bathe in it… but beneath the fabulous wealth of Azerbaijan lurks very murky secrets

  • Oil generated £19  billion in revenues last year, yet much is believed to have gone straight into  the pockets of President Ilham Aliyev and his family
  • Azeri government  has threatened journalists and activists are tortured
  • Leaked documents  recently compared President Aliyev and his ruling clan to the mafia family in  the Godfather films

By  Will Stewart

PUBLISHED: 17:00 EST, 24  November 2012 |  UPDATED: 17:58 EST, 24 November 2012

Cleopatra, queen of ancient Egypt, bathed in  asses’ milk for the good of her complexion, but here in Baku, capital of  Azerbaijan, an even more surprising treatment is on offer. Disrobing from their  Gucci or Oscar de la Renta outfits, the ladies who lunch lie naked in baths of  crude oil, believing, as did Marco Polo, that the warming effects of 40C crude  cure skin diseases, rheumatism, arthritis and even ‘nerves’.

Medical science says that, beyond ten  minutes, the effects are more likely to be carcinogenic.

Oil is everywhere in Baku, even the spas. It  is in the sharp, acrid taste of the wind blowing in from the Caspian and in the  army of derricks marching far out to sea. Solidified into glass and concrete, it  is changing everything in this ancient town once known for dusty streets and  traditional carpets, creating instead a city of staggering  ostentation.

Petrol cure: The oil baths of Baku's spas are popular among the Azeri women, despite the high price tag, believing it will cure everything from skin diseases to arthritisPetrol cure: The oil baths of Baku’s spas are popular  among the Azeri women, despite the high price tag, as they believe it will cure  everything from skin diseases to arthritis

Baku is openly vying to become the Dubai of  the Silk Road. Earlier this year, it played host to the Eurovision final, staged  in the new Crystal Hall with its swirling lasers.

By 2019, Baku will boast the tallest building  on the planet (or so it is claimed): the £1.25 billion Azerbaijan Tower, soaring  3,445ft and 189 floors, or more than one kilometre, into the sky. It will be 30  per cent higher than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower, the current record holder. And  this in a region prone  to earthquakes.

As night falls, the city becomes a noisy,  pulsating LED show, competing with the well-head flares in the darkness  beyond.

No one knows quite how much of Azerbaijan’s  extraordinary oil wealth has made its way into  the bank accounts of  50-year-old President Ilham Aliyev and his family, or their retinue of friends  and hangers-on. But it is safe to say they are all unimaginably rich. According  to independent research, SOCAR, the state oil and gas company may have brought  in revenues of £19 billion last year – in a country with fewer than ten million  people.

Aliyev himself was educated in Russia, but  nothing less than a British school was acceptable for his children, so he sent  daughters Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva to the exclusive £15,000-a-year Queen’s College  for girls in London.

High hopes: A digital prediction of the £1.25 billion Azerbaijan Tower, which is predicted to become the world's tallest building upon its completionHigh hopes: A digital prediction of the £1.25 billion  Azerbaijan Tower, which is set to become the world’s tallest building upon its  completion

Today, the sisters are believed  to  share a property portfolio of £50 million – across Dubai, Paris and London – and  to share  construction interests with their mother.

Leyla’s personal business empire is said to  include lucrative airline and mobile-phone concerns, but the opaque commercial  world of Baku makes it hard to be sure. It has even been claimed she owns  Azerbaijan’s London embassy.

Leyla, 26, has now settled in Britain with  her husband, Russian singer Emin Agalarov, the son of a billionaire property  tycoon, and their two sons. They lead an enviable life, occupying an extravagant  penthouse overlooking Hyde Park.

Styling herself as an artist and socialite,  she has gathered an influential social circle, including Elisabeth Murdoch, Lord  Mandelson and Prince Andrew.

She once spent nearly £300,000 on vintage  champagne at a dinner party for a dozen girlfriends.

She recently launched Baku, a vanity magazine  to promote her country to wealthy Westerners.

Any serious opposition against President Aliyeva is crushed – activists are  tortured

Her arrival in London has prompted a flood of  Azeri oil money into UK property and business interests. At Baku, a new Azeri  restaurant in Knightsbridge, Leyla and friends can choose from a menu offering  caviar, gutab (minced lamb pancakes), pomegranate-and-rose soufflé and a £4,400  bottle of 1999 Cristal. A recent London Fashion Week cocktail party there was  sold out.

The site of the restaurant –  formerly  Gordon Ramsay’s La Noisette – is owned by Azeri government minister Kamaladdin  Heydarov’s London-based billionaire sons, Tale, 27, and Nijat, 26. Former LSE  student Tale has been dubbed the ‘Abramovich of Azerbaijan’ after pouring  millions into his local football team, Gabala, and recruiting former England  captain Tony Adams on a £1 million annual contract.

Tale was introduced to Princes William and  Harry at a charity match at the Beaufort Polo Club in Gloucester, when they  reportedly discussed hosting a polo event in Azerbaijan to raise money for the  Prince’s Trust, Prince Charles’s charity.

Leyla is not the only Aliyev who likes to  spend. In 2010, the story emerged of an extraordinary two-week shopping spree in  Dubai conducted by an Azeri boy aged 11. Over this happy fortnight, he became  owner of nine waterfront mansions for £28 million, a sum that would take the  average Azeri citizen 10,000 years to earn.

The boy’s identity? Heydar Aliyev, son of the  president, if the Dubai Land Department records are to be believed.

‘I have no comment on anything. I am stopping  this talk. Goodbye,’ snapped the presidential spokesman when asked about the  purchases.

If rich Azeris seem fond of life in Britain,  it is as nothing to the deepening love affair between British businessmen and  the oil wealth of Baku. The relationship has been growing inexorably stronger.  Political delegations visit every year at the behest of SOCAR and the European  Azerbaijan Society, or TEAS, based in London.

Ex-Defence Secretary Liam Fox, Lord Fraser,  Lord Sheikh, Bob Blackman MP, Mark Field MP, Transport Minister Stephen Hammond  – all Tories – and Ulster Unionist peer Lord Kilclooney have all enjoyed trips  to Azerbaijan.  Discreet visits by military big-wigs are not unknown.

Tony Blair, another traveller to these parts,  was reportedly paid £90,000 for a 20-minute speech on a visit in 2009: £75 a  second.

Royal pals: President Ailyeva's wife Mehriban Aliyeva talking to Prince Andrew at an oil conference in Baku with her eldest daughter Leyla (left)Royal pals: President Ailyeva’s wife Mehriban Aliyeva  talking to Prince Andrew at an oil conference in Baku with her eldest daughter  Leyla (left)

But none has been so high- profile or  controversial as Prince Andrew, a regular guest of President Aliyev.

In Azerbaijan, Prince Andrew is routinely  described as a ‘dear guest’ by  the leader of a country that ranks as one of the  most  corrupt in the  world on the Transparency Index.

But in Britain, the Prince has been heavily  criticised for a friendship  that appears to be continuing, though he has now  stood down from his  role as trade envoy. Last month, he met with Britain’s  Ambassador to  Azerbaijan at Buckingham Palace.

Prince Andrew has made eight visits to  Azerbaijan in six years; two of these  were private, arousing suspicion that he  has business interests there,  including a soon-to-be-built golf complex. These  claims have been  vigorously denied by Buckingham Palace.

The UK is Azerbaijan’s biggest  investor,  mainly through BP, though via dozens of other oil-related  companies, too: about  £20 billion has been pumped into the country since 1991.

Still, it is clear  who is boss here: Aliyev  recently condemned BP for ‘grave errors’ and  sharp declines in oil output,  leading to a £5 billion loss for  Azerbaijan. BP quickly replaced its top man in  Baku.

The British auction house Christie’s  organised its first exhibition in Baku at the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel in  September, flying in dealers, collectors, experts and its chairman, Viscount  Linley, to accompany the works of art. Rolls-Royce are here, as are accountancy  giant  PricewaterhouseCoopers and travel and corporate services giant Hogg  Robinson. Stella  McCartney has an outlet too. In preparation for  Eurovision, Azerbaijan purchased 1,000 London black cabs to whisk  visitors  from one freakish new building to another.

Mocking Azerbaijan is such easy sport that  you wonder if it was this Caspian  potentate that was Sacha Baron Cohen’s real  target when he invented  Borat, not Kazakhstan. WikiLeaks did not help. Leaked  cables showed US  diplomats likening moustachioed despot Aliyev and his ruling  clan to the mafia family in the Godfather films, quoting the line: ‘I don’t feel  I  have to wipe  everybody out – just my enemies.’

The same documents revealed his First Lady,  Mehriban, 48, ‘wears dresses  that would be considered provocative even in the  Western world’, and  lacks a ‘full range of facial expression’ following  ‘substantial  cosmetic surgery, [done] presumably overseas’.

Aliyev assumed power from his KGB-boss father  in the 2003 election that is  widely believed to have been rigged. It is said  the Duke of York makes  him laugh and that the  two men share a taste for  risque jokes – and the services of a blind Russian masseur with ‘the best hands  in the world’.

However, if the vulgar ostentation of Baku is  pure comedy, the darker side of the regime is no joke at all.

Take, for example, the locking up of  irreverent youths for slight  impoliteness towards the ruler’s late, and  deified, mother Zarifa. Or  how ordinary people were evicted from apartment  blocks to make way for  the totemic towers and esplanades, including the  £85 million palace  for Eurovision.

When grandmother Shirinbazhi Rzayeva refused  to move out of her flat near the site, somebody used  a mechanical digger  to drop a  concrete block through the roof.

‘We called the fire department but all they  did was ask us why we wouldn’t sell. The president wants to build his new city  at my expense. I refuse to be part of that.’

More sinister still is Aliyev’s crushing of  any serious opposition, as confirmed by groups including Human Rights Watch and  Amnesty. Phones are routinely tapped. Four years ago, the interior minister  publicly admitted that suspects have been tortured in pre-trial detention.

Last year, Turac Zeynalov, 31, was detained  on espionage charges. Relatives who visited him felt he had been beaten and said  he could not move. He died three days later ‘of skin cancer’, according to  officials.

Aliyev’s feared secret police like nothing  better than to snoop on female investigative journalists, the hidden cameras  rolling as they have sex in the privacy of their own apartments.

Ruling friend: British Prime Minister David Cameron shakes Ilham Aliyev's hand on the steps of No.10 Downing Street in August this yearRuling friend: British Prime Minister David Cameron  shakes Ilham Aliyev’s hand on the steps of No.10 Downing Street in August this  year

In an infamous case, Khadija  Ismailova, 36,  a reporter with Radio Liberty, received a warning letter  which read: ‘Whore!  Behave, or you will be defamed!’ She ignored the  threat and continued to  investigate allegations of gross corruption  within the first family and the  Byzantine court that encircles them.

‘I focused too closely on the daughters of  Ilham Aliyev, they didn’t like  that,’ she said. As a result, her most intimate  moments with her  boyfriend were exposed on the internet.

Says a friend: ‘For any woman this would be  painful, for an unmarried Muslim woman more so, yet Ismailova knows how low they  will stoop and refuses  to be intimidated.’ Another potential victim of such  tactics slept in a  tent in her bedroom.

There  are plenty of reporters and activists  in the gruesome Baku prison whose  ‘crime’ is being simply that: journalists,  activists, bloggers.

Walking the streets as a reporter is a  dangerous activity.

And what are these 4m-high sandstone walls on  the new highway into Baku  from the airport? Taxi driver Malik explains as he  speeds into the city  at the wheel of a ‘black cab’ now painted purple: ‘To stop  you and other foreign visitors seeing the poverty on the other side.’

Vagrants are routinely cleared off the  streets, while the poor, disabled and orphaned are shipped out to makeshift care  homes.

But to dwell on the cartoonish excesses of  this sinister regime is to miss  the main point. ‘Dubai on the Caspian’ has  developed a hydrocarbon hold  over the whole of Western Europe, Britain included  – and its grip will  last for decades.

No wonder  the Foreign Office has turned an  almost blind eye to human- rights  abuses, including curbs on freedom of  expression, assembly and  association, political interference in courts, and  repeated claims of  torture and abuse of foes.

Instead, the FO has been only too happy to  assist Prince Andrew with visits  here, while US Secretary  of State  Hillary Clinton has been half-hearted in her denunciations of the  regime.

Perhaps they have a point. Aliyev might be a  tyrant, but he’s a pro-British tyrant, is the argument. Certainly, a steady  stream of mega-contracts is flowing to the hundreds of our companies now linked  to Baku. It is likely Prince Andrew has been far more important to the cause of  UK business in Azerbaijan than anyone realises, or at least will  acknowledge.

It is also true that the stakes here are far  bigger than most people realise: they include European ‘energy security’ for  generations to come. Aliyev claims to have enough gas for a hundred years – a  fuel supply that is beyond the reach of Gazprom and the Russian bear, and free  of the fundamentalist despotism of Saudi Arabia or Iran.

For all its absurdities, Azerbaijan is a  Western-facing Muslim country, an oasis of calm and stability in a region of  notorious turmoil. Go south little more than a hundred miles from Baku and  you’re in the nuclear-ambitious theocracy of Iran.

Here is a Muslim country where women  generally do not cover their heads, and couples stroll hand in hand and kiss on  park benches close  to delightful fountains. Nightclubs are  common.

In Iran, the mullahs despise all they  see in  Azerbaijan, including its open business and diplomatic ties to  Israel and the  West. Tehran withdrew its ambassador in protest at the  staging of Eurovision so  nearby.

Violent clash: Azeri riot police beat a man during a protest in 2003 after the rigged election which saw Ilham Aliyev was declared the winnerViolent clash: Azeri riot police beat a man during a  protest in 2003 after the rigged election which saw Ilham Aliyev declared the  winner

Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna and Shakira, all  known for provocative costumes and  dance routines, have recently filled Baku  concert halls. No one batted  an eyelid. It has been suggested Azerbaijan poses  the greatest threat to Iran simply by being itself: a (relatively)  outward-looking Shi’ite  state, in stark contrast to its neighbour. A  high-ranking Azeri official at the Jo-Lo extravaganza was quoted saying: ‘You  could almost feel the Iranians seething. This stuff makes them  crazy.’

Azerbaijan means the Land of Fire in Persian.  Zoroastrians built temples round  burning gas vents in ancient times. Marco Polo  wrote of a ‘fountain from which oil springs in great abundance .  .  . not  edible but good for  burning and to treat men and animals with mange, and camels  with hives  and ulcers’. Other places have bounteous fruit orchards – this  country  has spewing geysers of flaming gas.

By the 19th Century, half the world’s oil  gushed from here; families  including the Nobels and the Rothschilds built  grandiose mansions in  what was then known as the Paris of the Caucasus. Yet it  is not so long  since Soviet rule, when Azerbaijan was a bankrupt backwater,  almost  wholly cut off from the world outside the USSR.

Its fortunes declined still further thanks to  the devastating war with  Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh  (still a huge bone of contention). Then, in the ‘Eldorado Era’ immediately after  the  collapse of the Soviet Union, educated but impoverished local  ‘Nastashas’  flung themselves at British oil workers for $100 a night at  seedy clubs. In  this Wild East, drunk foreigners drooled at Azeri belly  dancers, clumsily  stuffing hard currency into their bras and knickers.

This was the period when I bumped into a  grumpy Mark Thatcher who kept a  bolthole in Baku as he touted, like many other  Western wheeler-dealers,  for a slice of the Azeri action.

Sir Mark was unsuccessful in Baku, like most  foreign cowboys. People here  are among the most skilled and exasperating  negotiators in the world.  Some of the best oil brains on Earth drank themselves  silly (and several went certifiably mad) waiting for Aliyev’s ruthless father  Heydar –  former head of the KGB in the region and another man familiar with  torture – to agree the ‘deal of the century’ with Western giants.

Heydar finally clinched it in 1994 with a  consortium of oil companies headed by BP, triggering $18 billion in investment  and setting Azerbaijan on course to its current riches.

Even in death Heydar stares threateningly  from the posters and statues: almost everything else about Baku has changed  dramatically.

Chinese, Arab and US money is pouring in to  the Khazar Islands. Described by the regime as a new Venice, Baku’s 41  artificial islands are expected to become one of the most desirable residential  areas in the world, with 50 hospitals, 150 schools, beautiful parks and  recreation facilities, gargantuan shopping malls, university campuses and,  inevitably, a Formula 1 racetrack.

The Hotel Crescent is due to open soon, a  33-storey half-moon shaped structure by the sea. It will be followed by the  seven-star Full Moon Hotel with a design that has been likened to the Death Star  from Star Wars. ‘Baku White City’, built by Atkins UK, and with architects  including Sir Norman Foster, will, say one report, ‘cover  an area greater  than Monaco, becoming the biggest development in  the Caucasus’.

‘The scale of what’s happening is  mind-boggling,’ says a UK oil executive as he sips whisky in a revolving bar  atop the Baku Hilton. ‘There’s every designer boutique known to man. Streets are  filled with Bentleys and Ferraris. Here’s the crunch: the Azeris have only  begun. In another dozen or so years it will be one of the smartest, most  fashionable locations in the world. It’s a cut above the normal Corruptistan  stereotype of old Soviet states.’

Here is a prediction: it is likely you or  those close to you will, in years ahead, come here for an exotic weekend. It is  equally likely you will rather enjoy its often balmy weather, relaxed atmosphere  and opulence.

Visa rules are still restrictive for  Westerners, except oil or gas experts on expensive organised package tours;  prying journalists are unwelcome. Yet the expectation is that Baku will open up  in the coming years to compete with Dubai. The big international hotel chains  are well established, doffing caps to serious money in a once drab communist  outpost.

Qatar Airways has started regular flights,  even if they are not cheap (you can’t get a flight for less than £600, plus £60  entry visa). Baku is already a playground to Middle Eastern visitors.

Meanwhile, the Old City, a maze of cobbled  streets, charming garden cafes and traditional rug sellers dating back to the  12th Century, is eerily silent. Above it looms Baku’s Flame Towers, futuristic  high-rises shaped like tongues of fire in glass and steel.

For all the mockery and criticism of Aliyev,  Western leaders are secretly grateful to a man who has brought stability and the  prospect of oil and gas. They hold on to the thought that,  compared with  Iran, the suppression and torture is on a lesser scale.

But realpolitik has its dangers. A former  ambassador in the region remembers the enthusiasm that greeted Bashar al-Assad  coming to power in Syria: ‘One Labour Foreign Minister described him as “good  news”, “very impressive” and “a warm  individual”, adding for good  measure,  “I found him as somebody who had a very modern outlook, who will  take Syria forward.”

‘The Minister was Peter Hain, but never mind.  Hindsight makes us all wise. All I can say is this: don’t be too sure about  throwing all your support behind

Read more:–beneath-fabulous-wealth-Azerbaijan-lurks-murky-secrets.html#ixzz2DCP0WQ8K Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Morsi decree makes him Egypt’s ‘new pharaoh’ say critics

‘A major blow to the revolution’ says ElBaradei as  president hands himself sweeping new powers

LAST UPDATED AT 10:05 ON Fri 23 Nov  2012

EGYPTIAN reformists who risked their lives to overthrow the Hosni Mubarak  regime last year have reacted with horror to the decision of his successor,  President Mohammed Morsi, to hand himself new powers above any court in the  land. It amounts to “presidential tyranny”, they say.

A day after winning international acclaim for brokering a ceasefire between  Israel and Hamas, Morsi yesterday issued a decree making himself the “ultimate  force” in a country that has no parliament and has yet to draft a new  constitution. He also ordered a re-trial of his 84-year-old predecessor.

As The Daily Telegraph explains, the decree allows Morsi to  “issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution” and ensures that any  “constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are  final and not subject to appeal”.

Crucially, the decree appears to bar the courts from attempting to dissolve  the assembly which is writing the country’s new constitution. Secularists have  accused the body of wanting to impose sharia, or Islamic law.

The tightening of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party’s grip on power has  been broadly condemned. “Morsi today usurped all state powers [and] appointed  himself Egypt’s new pharaoh,” Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate,  said on Twitter. “A major blow to the revolution that could have dire  consequences.”

Abdel-Halim Qandi, editor of as-Sawt newspaper, told The Guardian: “Morsi was elected as a president. Now he is  behaving like a king. This is a coup against the Egyptian revolution.”

Cairo residents interviewed by the Telegraph were equally angered. Mohammed  Said, a 50-year-old accountant, said: “He has given himself immunity and he has  given the constitutent assembly immunity and he is attacking the judiciary’s  independence. He has just made himself a new Allah.”

Mustafa Taha, 30, said: “I think the regime is authoritarian and it’s an  extension of the old regime. Nothing has changed.”

The decision to re-try former president Mubarak and other officials of his  regime accused of killing protestors during the 2011 uprising is a different  matter. As the Guardian says, the move is seen as an attempt to quell anger over  what is perceived as “the widespread impunity” they have enjoyed in the courts.  Many Egyptians believe the life sentence given to Mubarak was too lenient.

The deep divisions within Egypt were highlighted last night when a Muslim  Brotherhood protest in front of Cairo’s main court called on Morsi to “purify”  the judiciary while protestors in nearby Tahir Square held pictures depicting  Morsi as “half himself and half Mubarak”.

Read more:

Wal-Mart India unit suspends CFO, others pending bribery probe

Posted 2012/11/22 at 11:41 pm EST

MUMBAI, Nov. 22, 2012 (Reuters) — The Indian joint venture of Wal-Mart Stores Inc <wmt.n> has suspended its chief financial officer and other employees as it investigates alleged violations of U.S. anti-bribery laws, a development that could hamper India’s efforts to open its domestic supermarket sector to foreign investment.

Two-wheelers move past the newly opened Bharti Wal-Mart Best Price Modern wholesale store in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad September 26, 2012. Picture taken September 26, 2012. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, said last week it has opened internal inquiries or investigations into bribery allegations in Brazil, China and India, which follows an earlier probe in Mexico.

“The suspension is a routine global practice followed in such investigations,” an official at the Indian unit said, declining to be named. “We cannot carry out a fair investigation when the people we are investigating are in office. What we must not forget is they are innocent until proven guilty,” the person said.

Separately, a spokeswoman for the joint venture confirmed the suspensions and said the venture was “committed to conducting a complete and thorough investigation.” Wal-Mart’s partner in the venture is Bharti Enterprises.

Indian authorities are also investigating claims that Wal-Mart violated foreign exchange rules when it invested $100 million in a domestic unit owned by its wholesale joint-venture partner.

Indian opposition parties and allies within the Congress party-led coalition government in New Delhi are opposed to allowing global giants like Wal-Mart into the retail sector, saying to do so would drive small traders out of business.

After several delays, the government in September finally allowed foreign direct investment in the sector to revive stalled reforms and help halt a slide in economic growth.

On Thursday, when the Indian parliament opened for its winter session, opposition politicians demanded a debate and vote on the policy decision and have threatened to halt parliamentary proceedings.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose; Writing by Ranjit Gangadharan; Editing by Matt Driskill)

All expenses paid: the full scale of MPs’ lavish globetrotting revealed


Special Investigation: Hundreds of politicians have each accepted thousands of pounds worth of trips to exotic locations. So what do their hosts want in return?


Oliver Wright, Matthew Macaulay

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Backbench MPs have gone on more than £1.5m of trips with all expenses paid by foreign governments, pressure groups and companies in little over two years, The Independent can reveal. Several MPs have spent months out of the country on foreign trips, sometimes while Parliament is sitting, while many of those funding the visits have a vested interest in lobbying MPs.

After the trips, a significant number of MPs have made speeches in the House of Commons supporting the political positions of the governments and countries they have visited.

The Independent’s analysis reveals that 242 MPs have declared “fact-finding missions” and visits worth an average £6,500 to countries including Sri Lanka, China and former Soviet States since the last election.

The highest-claiming MPs include the former Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband who, since losing the Labour leadership to his brother, has gone on 14 foreign trips costing £47,600 and taking up 47 days – mainly to give speeches and attend conferences.

The foreign trips taken by Mr Miliband, who declared in the aftermath of his leadership defeat that “South Shields comes first”, have helped him to earn £400,000 in addition to his MPs salary.

The findings show that:

* One in five Conservative backbench MPs had been taken on trips to Israel and Palestine since 2010 – the majority paid for by pro-Israeli lobbying groups. In total 79 MPs have been funded to visit the region at an approximate cost to their hosts of more than £130,000.

* Saudi Arabia paid £36,000 to take 12 MPs on a four-day trip to Riyadh. MPs have also accepted £41,000 worth of trips to Azerbaijan.

* MPs have been on 36 visits to China and Hong Kong, 23 visits to India and 34 visits to the US since the general election, but only one MP has accepted a trip to Afghanistan and only two MPs have visited Belgium. Six MPs have been on trips to Australia, five to Brazil and three to the Cayman Islands.

The furore over Nadine Dorries’ trip to Queensland to participate in the television show I’m A Celebrity… has thrown a spotlight on MPs taking time away from their constituencies and Parliament.

Mark Hendrick, the Preston Labour MP who chairs the all-party China group, has spent over four months out of Britain since 2010, accepting seven foreign trips costing £43,211 – including a month learning Mandarin in Beijing.

Barry Gardiner, the MP for Brent North, has accepted £52,071 in foreign trips since the election, spending a total of 73 days out of the country as Vice-President of Globe International – an international group representing parliamentarians.

Andrew Rosindell, the Conservative MP for Romford, has accepted £25,000 worth of trips to the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Switzerland, Taiwan and Uzbekistan, among others.

The MPs defended the trips saying that they always tried to travel when Parliament was not sitting and the trips were an important way of fact-finding and building UK relationships abroad.

The Independent has also established that a significant number of other MPs have used knowledge gained on trips to ask questions and make speeches in the House of Commons often supporting the political positions of countries that they have visited.

The MPs concerned stressed that these statements are unconnected to the hospitality they received and point out that accepting foreign travel is one of the few ways for Parliamentarians to educate themselves on international issues.

But critics claim some of the trips are inevitably “one-sided” with MPs only seeing what their hosts want them to see.

The Conservative Bob Blackman, who was elected to Parliament as the MP for suburban Harrow East in 2010, has accepted two trips to the value of £6,600 to Azerbaijan paid for by the European Azerbaijan Society. The first visit took place at the end of May 2011, and a month later he secured a debate in Parliament on the country in which he described the country as “making tremendous strides as a democratic republic”.

Mr Blackman also backed Azerbaijan in its diplomatic stand-off with Armenia and called on the Government to increase its economic ties with the country. “The fact is that there is a great opportunity for Britain and its economy, for the promotion of jobs and for furthering British interests in the region,” he said. He made no mention of human rights in his speech despite the authorities in Azerbaijan being accused of arbitrary arrests, indefinite detentions and torture. In the 2012 Press Freedom Index, Azerbaijan ranked 162nd out of 179 nations. Other MPs raised human rights during the debate. Mr Blackman told The Independent that subsequent to his visit a human rights group had contacted him and he would be raising the subject with the Azerbaijani authorities on his next visit. But he defended accepting the trips and speaking about his experiences. “I think that one of the problems with MPs is that they speak before they see,” he said.

“Britain has a big investment in Azerbaijan and as the Minister acknowledged in the debate it was a aluable trip.” In another case, the Bournemouth MP Conor Burns, a Conservative, went on a £3,279 trip funded by the Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs in October 2010 to observe elections in the country. Early the following year he was quoted as saying: “We were able to go anywhere we wanted and speak to anyone. Whilst not flawless, these elections are way ahead of anything else seen in the region.”

However a report from the international group Human Rights Watch documented allegations that in the run-up to the elections the Bahraini government detained prominent opposition activists on terrorism charges, closed publications and websites, and intimidated civil society activists.

“What we are seeing in Bahrain these days is a return to full-blown authoritarianism,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director, that October. Mr Burns could not be contacted for comment.

In another instance, earlier this year Labour’s Grahame Morris, the MP for Easington in County Durham, travelled to Venezuela courtesy of the President of the National Electoral Council.

Two months later he asked the Foreign Secretary William Hague in the House of Commons: “Given that Venezuela has held more elections than nearly any other country in the world in recent years, and that these have been independently verified as free and fair by international bodies, will the Foreign Secretary join me in calling for all parties in Venezuela, including the Opposition, to recognise the outcome of October’s presidential elections, whatever the result may be?”

In the question he did not mention his trip or the funding of it – although this is not currently required under Parliamentary rules. In some previous elections Venezuela has not invited international election observers into the country and anomalies have been claimed, especially in the 2004 referendum to recall President Chavez. Mr Morris said that an Independent columnist had been on a similar trip to Venezuela and had written about it.

The Conservative MP for Shrewsbury, Daniel Kawczynski, visited Saudi Arabia accepting hospitality costing £3,025 in December 2011. Later he said: “I think we have a Guardian-reading liberal elite who want to denigrate Saudi Arabia at every opportunity. The BBC, with its left-wing bias and determination not to report anything positive from Saudi Arabia, also contributes to the extraordinary drip, drip effect of negative press that it gets in this country.”

Mr Kawczynski also received flights and accommodation worth £3,220 from a lobbying group for the Mauritanian fishing industry, Industrie de Peche & Representation, for a trip to the country in June 2011.

Later in the House of Commons he said: “On a recent visit to the country, as well as meeting politicians I spent a little time standing on the coast, watching the fishermen bring in their fish. It was quite extraordinarily difficult for them to drag their small boats on to the sand to get their catch.

“Many promises that the EU made…have not been fulfilled. One was that a pier or jetty would be built… but that has still not been put in place. I very much hope that [the minister] will use his good offices to find out what the European Union’s promise of assistance was to the local fishermen, and that he will do everything he possibly can to help them.”

Mr Kawczynski told The Independent that both visits were aimed at improving relations and trade with Britain and that that his point about the Mauritania fishing industry was not one that would have helped his hosts – but unrepresented fisherman. He added that he was proud to be the first British MP in recent times to visit the country.

On Saudi Arabia Mr Kawczynski said he had always been a supporter of the country and the trip had in no way influenced his views: “What saddens me is the perception of conflicts of interests even when there is none. Sadly there is no government money to fund these trips even when they are important economic trading partners so the only way to go, meet senior government officials and build relations is if they pay.”

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said it was important that MPs did not become “little Englanders” but that “serial” trip takers needed to be looked at.

“My worry is when you have MPs taking large numbers of trips they give the impression that they are taking every freebie that is around. And that, I fear, would have to come at the expense of their constituents.

“Then there is the question of MPs who have been on trips then using their Parliamentary position to push the Government to back a particular policy. That to me is cause of legitimate concern.”

Tamasin Cave, of the transparency group Spinwatch, added: “These freebies almost make Nadine’s trip to the jungle look well-judged. At least we can see what she’s up to. MPs do need knowledge of other countries but the list of states that feel the need to court politicians includes many with dubious reputations. This is not a new game. London-based PR firms have for years laundered the reputations of countries with dreadful human rights records, but MPs should not be drawn into this. Let’s hope they spend as much time talking to pro-democracy and opposition groups from those countries.”

A spokesman for David Miliband said a number of his visits were over weekends or during Parliamentary recesses so he only missed 13 sitting days from Parliament. He added: “South Shields comes first – any outside activities are fitted around Parliamentary commitments.”

Mr Hendrick said that all his visits were of a political and economic nature and took place mainly when Parliament was in recess. “As Chairman of the All Party China Group, I thought it was extremely important to stay in contact with the political and economic developments in China through regular contact with Chinese political leaders and their business counterparts at a time when China is emerging as the second largest economy in the world and has now become a political super power,” he said.

Mr Rosindell said that part of his declaration was a £5,000 upgrade on a Virgin flight to the Turks & Caicos Islands. He stressed that all of his overseas visits were entirely for work connected with his parliamentary duties and responsibilities. “I am a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee,” he said. I can fully justify every visit made.”

Mr Gardiner could not be contacted for comment.

Tomorrow: ‘I am not the Sri Lankan government’s cheerleader…’

Schools face cuts to pay for £1bn academies overspend

Funds for struggling schools slashed, report reveals

Richard Garner

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Funding for struggling schools has been slashed to cover a £1bn overspend in the academies programme, a report reveals today.

Spending on a range of education programmes – including improving under-performing schools – has been cut to provide unplanned extra funding for academies, according to the National Audit Office, a public spending watchdog. Leaders of the teaching unions reacted with anger last night, describing the overspending as “appalling” at a time when non-academy schools were having to tighten their belts.

“There appears to be no limit to the amount of money this Government is prepared to pour into creating academies,” said Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. “When money in the UK is so tight, this unscheduled spending of taxpayers’ money is appalling.”

Academy schools, which are funded directly from Whitehall and are independent of local authority control, were introduced under Labour but have been heavily pushed by Michael Gove. The Education Secretary has said he anticipates most schools becoming academies, although critics claim they are insufficiently accountable and hand too much power to school sponsors.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: “Taxpayers have the right to expect a more considered and controlled approach to public spending than the department has so far displayed.”

Today’s report revealed the Government spent £8.3bn on the academies programme in the two years up to April 2012 – £1bn of which had been above budget.

As a result, ministers have had to slash a total of £350m from other education services – cutting £95m from the school improvement programme aimed at raising standards and taking £105m from contingency reserves.

In addition, this year they have reduced by £100m the amount set aside for 16- to 19-year-olds to stay on at school or college and a similar amount earmarked for intervening to improve standards in under-performing schools.

The Department for Education justified the budget cuts by saying the academies programme was now its key means of improving standards.

The report also reveals that six senior figures in the academies movement earn more than £200,000 a year and that heads of academies, on average, earn £6,600 more than those of maintained local authority schools. The number of civil servants seconded to the project has also more than doubled, to 280.

Since the election in 2010, the numbers of schools becoming academies has soared by 1,037 per cent – from 210 to 2,309 by this September. This includes 48 per cent of all secondary schools and five per cent of primary schools. As a result, the programme is now swallowing up 15 per cent of the entire schools budget – compared with just five per cent in 2010.

Today’s report says that most of the schools transferring up until now had been ranked as “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, but a growing number now were only “satisfactory” – a category now replaced by “requires improvement”. As a result, there was a risk they may not be so expert at controlling their own finances.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “A tenfold increase in the number of academies since May 2010 is a significant achievement. However, the department wasn’t sufficiently prepared for the financial implications of such a rapid expansion or for the challenge of overseeing and monitoring such a large number of academies.”

The DfE mounted a robust defence of the extra spending. “We make no apology for the fact that more schools than even we had imagined have opted to convert [to academies], and no apology for spending money on a programme that is proven to drive up standards and make long-term school improvements,” said a spokesman.

“We want as many schools as possible to take advantage of the significant benefits that academy status brings – because it means more and more schools run by great heads and teachers, not local authority or Whitehall bureaucrats, and more and more children getting a first-class education.”

He added that the cost of converting a school had fallen by 53 per cent in two years and would be cut further.

By numbers

£8.3bn Cost of the academies project in first two years of the Coalition, £1bn over budget

2,309 The number of academies by September 2012 – an increase of 1,037% since the election

15% Proportion of schools budget earmarked for academies, up from 5% in 2010

48% Proportion of secondary schools that are now academies

133% Increase in number of civil servants working on academies programme (from 120 in 2010-11 to 280 in 2011-12)



Nicolas Sarkozy ‘could be placed under investigation’ : Janet Napolitano, US Secretary of Homeland Security, did not deny the Elysee Palace hacking allegations

Nicolas Sarkozy faces the humiliating prospect of being placed under formal criminal investigation when he appears before a judge on Thursday to answer corruption charges.

Nicolas Sarkozy 'could be placed under investigation'

Nicolas Sarkozy is facing a number of investigations Photo: AP

By Peter Allen, Paris

3:01PM GMT 21 Nov 2012

The possibility was raised by judicial sources before the former French president’s visit to the Palais de Justice in Bordeaux.

There he will be questioned at length by Judge Jean-Michel Gentil over his links with Liliane Bettencourt, the l’Oreal heiress and France’s richest woman.

The principal allegation in the so-called ‘Bettencourt Affair’ is that Mr Sarkozy accepted thousands of pounds in illegal cash to fund his election campaign in 2007.

In return, it is claimed, Mrs Bettencourt was offered massive tax breaks on her multi-million pounds fortune after Sarkozy came to power.

While some believe Mr Sarkozy will be quizzed “as a witness”, judicial sources told AFP, France’s national news agency, that “he may be indicted”.

This would mean him facing the kind of criminal trial which his former mentor and predecessor as conservative president, Jacques Chirac, went through.

Mr Chirac ended up receiving a suspended prison sentence for fraud last December, becoming the first head of state in the history of the Fifth Republic to be treated as a common criminal.

Judge Gentil is examining evidence that Mr Sarkozy “abused the weakness” of Mrs Bettencourt, 90.

Investigators are examining the withdrawal of hundreds of thousands of euros from Swiss bank accounts, and the claim that cash was delivered in brown envelopes.

Mr Sarkozy, who lost May’s presidential election to Socialist Francois Hollande, has denied a series of allegations of illegal campaign financing.

Police raided the Paris mansion Mr Sarkozy shares with his third wife, Carla Bruni, in July – just weeks after he lost his presidential immunity from prosecution.

Mr Sarkozy’s legal troubles mounted on Tuesday when it emerged that judges are investigating millions he spent on opinion polls when he was president.

The allegation is that he enriched friends who produced the polls, many of which were used for personal reasons including gauging how popular Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was as First Lady.

Mr Sarkozy is also being investigated over the Karachi Affair – a fraud inquiry centred on submarine sales to Pakistan – and allegations that he received millions from former Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi.

Despite all this, Mr Sarkozy, who is attempt to carve himself a new career as an international speaker in the Tony Blair mould, has not ruled out running for president again in 2017.

Mr Sarkozy’s aides said he was delivering a speech in London today.

Separately reports emerged that the US ‘spied’ on Mr Sarkozy”s presidency by hacking into ministerial computers during his last weeks in office, it was claimed yesterday.

France’s cyber-warfare agency believes that a computer virus found in the Elysee was similar to Flame, which was allegedly created by a US-Israeli team to target Iranian computers.

It is thought to have been used on computers of Sarkozy aides including Xavier Musca, his chief of staff during the presidential election.

Janet Napolitano, US Secretary of Homeland Security, did not deny the Elysee Palace hacking allegations, but said: “We have no greater partner than France, we have no greater ally than France.”

Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson WILL face court over ‘making payments to public officials’: Four News International staff to be charged with conspiracy

  • Crown Prosecution  Service said that five people are to face action as part of Operation  Elveden
  • The others are former News of the World royal  correspondent Clive Goodman, former Sun  chief reporter John Kay and Ministry of Defence employee Bettina Jordan  Barber
  • 52 people have  been arrested  as part of Operation Elveden, two of whom have been told they  will face no further action
  • Goodman and  Coulson face charges relating to payments to public officials for information  including the ‘Green Book’ royal phone directory
  • Brooks and Kay to  be charged in relation to alleged payments of £100,000 to MoD worker Barber for  stories which appeared in the Sun

By Chris Greenwood and Matt Blake

PUBLISHED:05:37 EST, 20  November 2012| UPDATED:10:09 EST, 20 November 2012

Former News International chiefs Andy Coulson  and Rebekah Brooks were formally accused today of a ‘cash for stories’  conspiracy.

They were among five people named over claims  public officials took bribes in exchange for confidential  information.

Among them is a senior Ministry of Defence  official who is accused of pocketing £100,000 over eight years.

David Cameron's former spin doctor Andy Coulson and ex-News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks will be charged as part of the investigation into alleged corrupt payments to public officials.David Cameron's former spin doctor Andy Coulson and ex-News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks will be charged as part of the investigation into alleged corrupt payments to public officials.

Charged: David Cameron’s former spin doctor Andy  Coulson and ex-News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks will be charged as part of the investigation into alleged corrupt payments to  public  officials

Former News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman is to be charged John Kay

Charged: Former News of the World royal correspondent  Clive Goodman, left, and The Sun’s former chief reporter John Kay, right,   are also to be charged

Alison Levitt QC, of the Crown Prosecution  Service (CPS), announced two groups of suspects will face trial.

The first includes Mr Coulson over  allegations the Royal Household’s internal phone directory and other  sensitive  information was leaked.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s former  chief  spin doctor is accused of conspiring with former News of the World royal  correspondent Clive Goodman.

Charged: Bettina Jordan-Barber, who has been charged in relation to payments made to public officials, is seen here with her husband Nigel and their children

Charged: Bettina Jordan-Barber, who has been charged in  relation to payments made to public officials, is seen here with her husband  Nigel and their children

Miss Levitt said the two men will face charges over two conspiracies, one in 2002-03 and one in 2005, relating to the  authorisation of payments to public officials.

She said the information handed over  included a Royal directory known as the Green Book which included  contact  details for the Royal family and their aides.

Prosecutors claim the second  conspiracy  involved Mrs Brooks, former Sun chief reporter John Kay and  MoD official  Bettina Jordan Barber.

Miss Levitt said Mrs Jordan Barber is  accused of accepting cash for information that formed the basis of ‘a  series’ of stories in The Sun.


Under a cloud: A worker arrives at News International's headquarters in Wapping, London. Of the 52 arrests made under Operation Elveden, 21 are understood to be journalists at the Sun newspaper

Operation  Weeting

Launched  in January 2011, it was the first investigation launched to probe allegations of  phone hacking. So far 22 people have been arrested.

Operation  Elveden

Launched in February 2011  to investigate allegations of inappropriate payments to police. So far 52 people have been arrested.

Operation  Tuleta

Launched in June 2011 to investigate  allegations of computer hacking. So far  18 people have been  arrested.

She said: ‘It is alleged that approximately £100,000 was paid to Bettina Jordan Barber between 2004 and 2011.’

The senior barrister added that police  continue to investigate a fourth unnamed suspect over this alleged  conspiracy.

The announcement is the most major  development to date in Operation Elveden, Scotland Yard’s sprawling  probe into  claims of corruption between journalists and public  officials.

A total of 52 people have been  arrested and  questioned, including journalists, police officers,  military officials and  other civil servants.

Last week two suspect, a retired police  officer and a former journalist, were told they will face no further  action.

A senior counter-terrorism detective has  already been charged and is due to face trial in January.

Detective Chief Inspector April  Casburn is  accused of leaking information to the News of the World about discussions to  reopen the hacking inquiry.

Mrs Brooks edited the News of the  World  before taking over The Sun in January 2003 and becoming chief  executive of News  International in September 2009.

Mrs Brooks was officially charged at a  London police station this morning and was bailed to appear at  Westminster  Magistrates Court on November 29.

Mr Coulson edited the News of the  World  between 2003 and 2007 before becoming the Conservative party’s  director of  communications.

In a statement, Coulson said: ‘I am extremely  disappointed by this latest CPS decision. I deny the allegations made against me  and will fight the charges in court.’

Mr Kay, an award-winning reporter, was chief  reporter at The Sun for 21 years until his retirement last year.

He was charged at a London police station  this morning and will appear at Westminster Magistrates Court in  November.

His solicitor Henri Brandman, said: ‘Neither  my client nor I will be making any comment in respect of the matter at the  present time.’

Under a cloud: A security guard walks past News International's headquarters in Wapping, London. Of the 52 arrests made under Operation Elveden, 21 are understood to be journalists at the Sun newspaperUnder a cloud: A security guard walks past News  International’s headquarters in Wapping, London. Of the 52 arrests made under  Operation Elveden, 21 are understood to be journalists at the Sun newspaper

Mr Goodman was royal correspondent at the  News of the World for several years until 2007.

Mrs Jordan Barber is a senior official at the  MoD where she worked on high-level strategy and co-ordinating  visits to  Afghanistan.

All five will appear in court within  days  accused of conspiracy to case misconduct in a public office, an  offence which  carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Miss Levitt, who is overseeing  prosecution  decisions over all phone hacking and bribery cases, said the cases involve two  files handed over by police on August 30.

She said: ‘All of these matters were  considered carefully in accordance with the Director of Public  Prosecutions’ guidelines on the public interest in cases affecting the  media.

‘This guidance asks prosecutors to  consider  whether the public interest served by the conduct in question  outweighs the  overall criminality before bringing criminal proceedings.

‘Following charge, these individuals will  appear before Westminster Magistrates’ Court on a date to be  determined.’

Asked about the charges during a visit to  Northern Ireland, Mr Cameron said he had expressed ‘regret’ on many occasions  regarding the issue.

‘I have also said very clearly that we should  allow the police and the prosecuting authorities to follow the evidence wherever  it may lead and I think that is very, very important,’ he said.

‘But I think, particularly as we get to a  situation with pending court cases, I think we should probably leave it at  that.’

The five accused and the charges they  face:


Top friends: Rebekah Brooks' friendship with David Cameron has been well publicised. Here they are pictured together at the book launch for Citizen by her husband Charlie
Top friends: Rebekah Brooks’ friendship with David  Cameron has been well publicised. Here they are pictured together at the book  launch for Citizen by her husband Charlie

Cheshire-born Brooks, 44, began her career at  French magazine L’architecture d’aujourd’hui in Paris, before returning to  Britain to  work for Eddy Shah’s short-lived newspaper venture paper The Post in  1988.

She joined the News of the World in 1989, as  a secretary before becoming a feature writer on the paper’s Sunday  magazine.

From there she rose through the  ranks before  she was made deputy editor of the paper, aged 27. In 1998,  she became editor of  sister publication The Sun. In 2000, she  was appointed editor of the News of  the World, making her the youngest  editor of national British newspaper just  days before her 32nd birthday.

In 2002 she married Eastenders  actor Ross  Kemp in Las Vegas before splitting in 2005. She then married  former racehorse  trainer Charlie Brooks in 2009 where wedding guests included Tory leader David Cameron and Prime Minister Gordon Brown. In the same year, she was made Chief  Executive Officer of News International. She resigned from the  role in July  2011.

Today’s  charge: Between 1 January 2004 and  31 January 2012, she conspired to commit misconduct in public  office.


Close: Coulson became Cameron's spin chief in 2007

Andy Coulson, 42, started out as a reporter  at the Basildon Echo in Essex in 1986, aged 18.

After just two years he moved to the Sun  where he worked with Piers Morgan on the Bizarre column which he  began to edit  in 1994 following a nine-week stint on the Daily Mail.

He soon carved out a reputation as a specialist in celebrity gossip, setting up the website – the  first  of News International’s websites to make a profit – and was  rewarded with the  editorship of the News of the World in 2003, aged 34.

Then in 2007, he left the News of  the World  and became director of communications for the Conservative  Party (pictured with  David Cameron), on a salary reported to be close to £400,000. He resigned in  2011.

Today’s  charges:

Charge 1: Between 31 August 2002 and 31 January  2003, he  conspired to commit  misconduct in public office.

Charge 2: Between 31 January 2005 and 3 June 2005, he conspired to commit  misconduct in public  office.


Clive Goodman with his wife at a party in the 90s

Clive Goodman, 53, enjoyed a long career of  royal scoops while Royal Editor at the News of the World.

He was even said to hold the newspaper’s  record for the highest number of consecutive front page leads – five.

Known for his pin-striped suits and  slicked-back hair, the former royal editor earned himself the nickname  the ‘Eternal’ or ‘Olympic Flame’, because he rarely went out.

Goodman (pictured with his wife at a party)  is said to have been at  home, chatting to Diana, Princess of Wales, on her  mobile, when she told him about her night-time mercy visits to hospitals. He  earned accolades for his work. In 2002, he was named Royal Editor of the Year in  The  Real Press Awards.

Today’s  charges:

Charge 1: Between 31 August 2002 and 31 January  2003, he  conspired to commit  misconduct in public office.

Charge 2: Between 31 January 2005 and 3 June 2005, he conspired to commit  misconduct in public  office.


John Kay

An award-winning reporter, John Kay was chief  reporter at The Sun for 21 years until his retirement last year.

He joined the paper in 1974 and was made  chief reporter in 1990.

Twice named ‘Reporter of the Year’  in the  British Press Awards, a Press Gazette feature in November 2005  also named him  as the sixteenth most influential British journalist  since the war.

Today’s  charge: Between 1 January 2004 and  31 January 2012, he conspired to commit misconduct in public office.


Charged: Bettina Jordan-Barber, who has been charged in relation to payments made to public officials, is seen here with her husband Nigel and their children

Before her arrest, Ms barber was a Deputy  Team Leader and Strategy Officer at the Ministry of Defence.

Previously, she acted for two years as  Afghanistan Visits Strategy Officer.

Ms Jordan-Barber worked for the  Ministry of  Defence’s Iraq desk writing secret briefings for the  Secretary of State on the  inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi who died in British Army custody  in Basra.

Today’s  charge: Between 1 January 2004 and  31 January 2012, she conspired to commit misconduct in public office.

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More MPs bill taxpayer for rent as they let out their homes

At least 32 MPs have been found to be claiming rent for second homes on their expenses while simultaneously letting out property nearby, an investigation reveals.

John Denham, a former Labour cabinet minister

John Denham, a former Labour cabinet minister, was among MPs found to be renting out homes in London Photo: PAUL GROVER
Christopher Hope

By , Senior Political Correspondent

10:00PM GMT 18 Nov 2012

The MPs, including former Cabinet ministers, are claiming expenses of up to £20,000 a year each for rent, as well as receiving money from properties that were often bought and refurbished with taxpayer assistance.

Last month it was disclosed that 27 MPs were letting out their second homes while charging the taxpayer for renting another property.

Tonight’s Channel 4’s Dispatches programme found five more — three MPs who were carrying out the practice in London and another two who were renting and letting properties in their constituencies.

The MPs now found to be renting out homes in London are: John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the culture, media and sport committee, the Tory MP Mark Pritchard and John Denham, a former Labour cabinet minister.

Labour’s Michael Meacher was also found by Dispatches to have moved out of his home in Oldham to rent a new property, while Pat McFadden, a Labour former minister, did the same in Wolverhampton.

The rules of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) state that “members of Parliament must not exploit the system for personal financial advantage”.

The MPs insist they have done nothing wrong, and were forced to act by new Ipsa rules banning claims for mortgage interest payments from the end of August.

The full details will be disclosed by the authority today when it publishes names of the landlords of more than 300 MPs, defying the wishes of John Bercow, the Speaker.

Officials from Ipsa have worked through the weekend to get the information published today. Some of the names of the MPs’ landlords have been redacted for security reasons, sources told The Daily Telegraph.

The list will also give the names of another four MPs who are either letting properties to or renting from another MP, that effectively allows them to build up property nest-eggs at taxpayers’ expense.

Last month, it emerged that the Labour MP Kevin Barron was renting a home from his Labour colleague Jon Trickett, while Linda Riordan was found to be renting from her Labour colleague Iain McKenzie.

Tonight’s programme shows that Mr Whittingdale moved out of a flat he had owned for years with a small £160 monthly mortgage and moved into a nearby property, with a far higher rental claim on his expenses.

Ipsa records show that Mr Whittingdale started claiming rent but the amount he is claiming has not yet been disclosed. The average market rent for a one-bedroom flat in the area is nearly £400 a week.

Dispatches also found that Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, has claimed more than £15,000 on his second home — despite a public pledge from David Cameron in 2009 that he would stop. Mr Maude billed the taxpayer for council tax, utility bills, television licence and service charges.

In 2009, at the height of the expenses scandal, Mr Cameron said in a party political broadcast: “Other members of the shadow Cabinet, like Francis Maude and Chris Grayling, will not in future claim anything for their second homes.”

The MPs told Dispatches that they had not done anything wrong and were forced to move by the rule change.

Mr Whittingdale said: “I would have much preferred not to have had to do this, but it is a direct consequence of the change in the rules.

“It has long been my view that the system of allowances is illogical, unnecessarily costly to the taxpayer and anomalous. This is an example of that.

“It would be far simpler, more efficient and cheaper to administer if it were replaced by a simple ‘per diem’ allowance for MPs from out-of-London constituencies.”

Mr Denham stressed he was not benefiting financially from the new arrangement. He said: “I would strongly prefer to revert to the previous arrangement. This was also, of course, very significantly cheaper for the taxpayer. This option does not exist under the Ipsa rules. I have had to let the property in order to maintain mortgage payments on it.”

Mr McFadden said the changes in August had “forced some MPs, including me, into an absurd situation with regard to second homes”.

He said a £15,000 fall in the value of his home in Wolverhampton meant that he was in negative equity. “The rent I receive for this house does not even cover the mortgage interest and insurance so there is no profit to me. Far from making money, renting the house out has cost me money,” he said.

Mr Pritchard said he had not claimed mortgage interest on his home between 2010 and 2012, saving taxpayers £25,000.

Mr Maude’s spokesman said that he had only agreed to stop claiming on his second home for 12 months.

Dispatches — MPs: Are They Still At It? is on Monday at 8pm on Channel 4.

Mexico’s Zetas drug cartel strikes gold in the coal business

By Agence France-Presse Saturday, November 17, 2012 23:03 EST

A Mexican soldier guards the entrance to the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in 2006 in San Juan de Sabinas, Coahuila state, Mexico

They may be known for flashy cars and state of the art weaponry, but Mexican druglords have found an earthy new source of wealth: dirty old coal.

They are mining it themselves in a coal-rich area along the US border or buying it from small mine operators, then reselling it to a state-owned company at fabulous margins that can see them make a profit 30 times greater than their initial investment.

Along the way, besides the earth’s black bounty, the druglords are seeking to reap credibility as legitimate business people.

First word of the Zetas drug cartel’s presence in mining-heavy Coahuila state came in October from a former governor, Humberto Moreira, who blamed the notoriously violent group for his son’s death.

The Mexican Mining Association says Mexico produces 15 million tonnes of coal a year, worth $3.8 billion. About 95 percent of it comes from Coahuila.

Reforma newspaper says the Zetas produce or buy 10,000 tonnes of coal a week. Selling it at their inflated prices, that means yearly revenue of $22 million to $25 million.

The Zetas were created for former Mexican military special forces operatives who worked for the Gulf cartel. But they broke away from that group to control lucrative drug trafficking routes to the United States and engage in other crimes such as extortion, people trafficking and fuel theft.

“The Zetas are the first Mexican cartel to diversify from drugs into other areas,” said Tomas Borges, author of a book on the cartels.

Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano was shot and killed by authorities October 7 in the coal mining town of Progreso. Hi body was later stolen by armed men.

Moreira says the drug lord had his own coal pit in the region.

But the Zetas presence is not new. Raul Vera, bishop of Coahuila’s capital Saltillo, said drug traffickers have been digging coal for years and doing it in areas where it is illegal.

“It is an open secret that drug traffickers are infiltrating the coal mines. But since Moreira spoke out, we have seen police and military around and we know they arrested several people,” a coal industry businessman in Agujita said on condition of anonymity.

Highway 57 heading north to the United States runs through a dusty black area where piles of coal from small, precariously operated mines dot the landscape. Fatal accidents are common.

Trucks loaded with coal are stopped at checkpoints manned by soldiers looking for drug traffickers and drug shipments.

Since the Zetas discovered coal, violence has been on the rise, especially in a town of 150,000 called Piedras Negras, or black stones.

For drug cartels, diversification is almost a natural evolution, said Antonio Mazzitelli of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

In Colombia, for instance, traffickers infiltrated gold and coal mines and also dealt in oil.

“Corruption is their main tool for doing business, and also violence, if necessary,” Mazzitelli said.

Legitimate businesses help cartels launder money and bring in extra revenue, added Eduardo Salcedo, a Colombian who co-authored of a book on how drug cartels have reshaped Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.

Such business activities allow them not just to bring in more money “but above all gain social and political legitimacy,” Salcedo said.

Traffickers want to be able to “legalize their leaders and activities and join the formal economy, and be able to operate in society in a more relaxed way,” he explained.

But that quiet end does not always involve peaceful means.

Traffickers sometimes kidnap, mug or even kill miners and their bosses, or force them into business-sharing agreements, said Salcedo.

In Coahuila, some companies without mines or employees have contracts with local coal industry promoter Prodemi, according to a researcher from a local organization founded by relatives of miners who died in a 2006 accident that claimed 65 lives.

“There are mines that have a capacity for 30,000 tonnes but have contracts for 150,000. What they are selling is not what they are producing,” added the researcher, who requested anonymity.

“They are buying it from a third party and that is where all these people come in, be they Zetas or not, legal or not, clandestine or not.”


U.S. Copyright Surveillance Machine About To Be Switched On, Promises of Transparency Already Broken

The “Copyright Alert System” – an elaborate combination of surveillance, warnings, punishments, and “education” directed at customers of most major U.S. Internet service providers – is poised to launch in the next few weeks, as has been widely reported. The problems with it are legion.  Big media companies are launching a massive peer-to-peer surveillance scheme to snoop on subscribers. Based on the results of that snooping, ISPs will be serving as Hollywood’s private enforcement arm, without the checks and balances public enforcement requires. Once a subscriber is accused, she must prove her innocence, without many of the legal defenses she’d have in a courtroom. The “educational” materials posted for subscribers thus far look more like propaganda, slanted towards major entertainment companies’ view of copyright. And all of this was set up with the encouragement and endorsement of the U.S. government.

One of the mechanisms that was supposed to ensure some degree of fairness was independent auditing of the P2P surveillance methods used to identify alleged infringers, and of the ISPs’ procedures for matching Internet Protocol addresses to actual humans. But last month, the group set up to oversee the system – the Center for Copyright Information – revealed that its “independent” reviewer was Stroz Friedberg, a lobbying firm that represented the Recording Industry Association of America in the halls of Congress from 2004 to 2009. Needless to say, RIAA’s former lobbying firm is hardly an “independent” reviewer. And CCI could have discovered the relationship between Stroz and the RIAA – it’s on the public record, in reports that lobbyists must file with Congress every year.

It gets worse. In response to criticism of this obvious conflict of interest, CCI acknowledged that “[r]ecent reports that a former employee of Stroz Friedberg lobbied several years ago on behalf of RIAA on matters unrelated to CCI have raised questions” about the group’s impartiality.  In the name of “maintaining transparency,” CCI released the Stroz report to the public last week.

But it turns out the CCI has a funny definition of “transparency.” Nearly every significant detail of how the massive P2P monitoring scheme will work is redacted out of the public version. What remains is this: CCI hired a company called MarkMonitor, which will join BitTorrent networks and collect the Internet Protocol addresses of computers that are sharing certain movies and songs (MPAA and RIAA members supply the lists). Their software, described only as “collection mechanisms” and “scanning systems” in the public version, compares the beginning, end, and some of the middle of the file against a reference version, and, if they match, emails the ISP with the IP address of the accused file-sharer. The ISP then sends an escalating series of warnings and punishments to the subscriber, including mandatory “copyright education” and potential bandwidth throttling or blocking of popular websites.

There’s a lot we simply can’t tell from this heavily redacted report. Most importantly, we have no way of knowing if legal, non-infringing uses of copyrighted movies and music will be flagged as infringing, leading to escalating “mitigation measures” for law-abiding Internet subscribers. We don’t know what, if any, protocols other than BitTorrent the system will be snooping on. And we don’t know how, or how accurately, the ISPs match IP addresses to the names of actual human beings. That process, says CCI, was described in another Stroz Friedberg report that hasn’t been released.

CCI and its backers have made every effort to portray the system as fair and balanced. But subscribers are rightly wary of a copyright surveillance machine that dispenses warnings and punishments based on a secret process. Hopefully CCI will go to greater lengths to find an “independent” reviewer next time – but we’re not optimistic.

According to CCI, this fatally flawed system, created via a backroom deal with no subscriber input, will start spying on U.S. subscribers’ Internet usage, and sending out warnings and punishments, before the end of 2012. In light of what we already know, the better course would be to press reset.

Kosovo Prime Minister owns Harem with 52 slaves

*Engineering Evil: Wow, I would really like double confirmation on this.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A Ukraining woman who managed to escape from what she called “World’s hell hole” gave an interview with details about Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hasim Thaci and his harem in which 52 slaves ‘worked’ day and night serving the prime minister as well as other politicians and businessmen.

The location of the harem was on an intersection of streets Shaip Spahija and Bedri Shala, in the basement of a large building specially designed to server as a ‘harem’.

“None of the girls were from Kosovo, there were few from the Balkans, about ten from Russia, one from Cameroon, two Chinese women etc” stated the Ukrainian.

According to her, the building has several VIP areas where Thaci and his friends have orgys.

“Most of the people who arrive here are older, very few are younger. Many of them are foreign diplomats, including officers from EULEX and KFOR. The girls are not allowed to say “No”. One of the girls called Dolores from Colombia protested the conditions during our lunch time in the cafeteria. She was shot dead by Thaci’s bodyguards” says the Ukrainian witness, who went by her initials N.M.

N.M. stated she was ‘involved’ with Thaci only once when he came to the harem heavily intoxicated and drugged.

The Ukrainian gave an interview for multiple Balkan newspapers. She claimed it is virtually impossible to escape Thaci’s harem as there are always at least five armed bodyguards securing the area. Out of the five, there is always one from Chechnya. It was the man from Chechnya who eventually agreed to help her escape, after she bribed him with money as well as sexual favors.

$2 billion ‘theft’ of Zimbabwe’s diamonds

Allies of President Robert Mugabe have carried out the “biggest single plunder of diamonds” since the days of Cecil Rhodes, stealing Zimbabwean gems worth $2 billion (£1.26 billion) over the last four years, according to a new study.

$2 billion 'theft' of Zimbabwe's diamonds

Zimbabwe’s Marange field has one of the world’s biggest diamond deposits Photo: AP

By Peta Thornycroft, Aislinn Laing in Johannesburg

2:17PM GMT 12 Nov 2012

The revenues from Marange alluvial diamond field in eastern Zimbabwe, one of the richest such reserves in the world, have enriched Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, allowing it to build a war chest for the election expected next year. Senior figures in the regime and the military hierarchy are also believed to have profited, while funds owed to the state have simply disappeared.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars owed to Zimbabwe’s Treasury have been lost in both illegal and legal trades,” reads the report by Partnership Africa Canada, a campaign group.

In February last year, Tendai Biti, the finance minister, disclosed that $300 million collected by the Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation (ZMDC) and the Mineral Marketing Commission had not been handed over to the state. Meanwhile, a stockpile of 2.5 million carats, conservatively valued at $200 million, simply went missing.

The study concludes that most illicit revenue is raised through a “sophisticated price manipulation scheme” whereby diamonds are sold for knock-down prices within the legal monitoring system in Harare, then resold in trade centres like Dubai and India for twice the original price, with both the sellers and their Zimbabwean allies taking a cut. In all, some $2 billion has been lost to the state since 2008.

Chinese nationals and state-owned companies are the largest investors in Marange. Many work in partnership with Zimbabwean military chiefs, who have seats on the boards of diamond mining firms.

Mr Biti is expected to present the 2013 budget to parliament next week. He will probably be forced to cut spending on social services because the expected diamond revenues have not materialised.

HSBC and Goldman Sachs held $335m of Libyan state oil money ( Gaddafi’s Billions? )

Reposted at request in regards to the HSBC Jersey offshore account scandal

26th May 2011

Update: Global Witness publishes the Libyan Investment Authority financial position as of September 2010

Read BBC Business Editor Robert Peston’s analysis of this story

Listen to Global Witness discuss this investigation on the BBC World Service

Download – Libyan Investment Authority, as of June 2010

London and Washington  DC: HSBC and Goldman Sachs are among the key western bankers for Colonel Gaddafi’s regime, a 2010 document leaked to Global Witness appears to show. The document details the whereabouts of state oil revenues.  However the Libyan people could not know where it was invested or how much it was, because banks have no obligation to disclose state assets they hold. Global Witness is now calling for new laws requiring banks and investment funds to disclose all state funds that they manage.

Global Witness asked both banks to confirm that they held funds for the state-owned Libyan Investment Authority, and whether they still hold them. They both refused, with HSBC citing client confidentiality. Numerous other banks and financial firms are listed including Societe Generale, UniCredit and the Arab Banking Corporation.

“It is completely absurd that banks like HSBC and Goldman Sachs can hide behind customer confidentiality in a case like this. These are state accounts, so the customer is effectively the Libyan people and these banks are withholding vital information from them,” said Charmian  Gooch, director of Global Witness.

The Gaddafi family has significant personal control over the state funds invested in the Libyan Investment Authority. According to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, “Gaddafi makes no distinction between his personal assets and the resources of the country.”

On this basis, it is essential for banking regulators to investigate whether these banks have done enough to ensure that state funds have not been diverted to the Gaddafi family’s personal benefit.

Global Witness has been leaked a draft presentation that appears to show the investment position for the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) as of 30 June 2010, which stood at $53 billion. The information shows the diversity of Libyan assets held by major financial institutions:

  • HSBC holds      $292.69      million across ten accounts and Goldman Sachs has $43 million in three      accounts. The funds are in U.S. dollars, British pounds, Swiss Francs,      Euros and Canadian dollars.
  • A much      larger portion of the LIA’s deposits – $19 billion – are held in Libyan      and Middle Eastern banks, including the Central Bank of Libya, the      Arab Banking Corporation and the British Arab Commercial Bank.
  • Almost      $4 billion of the LIA’s funds are held in structured products with banks, hedge      funds and private firms such as Societe Generale ($1 billion), JP Morgan ($171      million) and OCH-ZIFF ($329 million).
  • The LIA      owns billions of dollars of shares in household name companies such as      General Electric, BP, Vivendi and Deutsche Telekom.

Global Witness believes there are two actions required from governments, beyond the sanctions that have already been imposed.

The first is that banks and investment houses must be required by law to disclose state funds that they manage. This would cost nothing and would allow citizens to see that state revenue is not being stolen by corrupt leaders. This fits a growing international norm on transparency of national assets.  Oil and mining companies are now required, as a condition of listing on the New York Stock Exchange, to disclose payments they make to governments, allowing people of natural-resource rich states to know what their government is earning.

The second is that banking regulators must do a thorough investigation to ensure that banks holding Libya’s state funds have done appropriate checks – known as due diligence – to prevent transfers from state funds to accounts personally controlled by Gaddafi and his cronies.

“We are calling on others with additional information to go public on Libya’s other assets too or to tell us where to find them. It’s the money of the Libyan people and they deserve to know where it is,” said Ms. Gooch.

HSBC said that it had strong anti-money laundering and anti-corruption procedures in place across all of its businesses.


Notes to editors:

1.HSBC’s U.S. division is currently under investigation for possible violations of anti-money laundering rules. Media reports have suggested that HSBC may be fined up to $1billion for not doing enough to curb the flow of dirty money.

2.In a dictatorship where one individual, or a small cabal, exercises almost complete power over the state, there is a very thin dividing line between state and personal investments. Funds may look like they belong to the state but are actually under the effective personal control of a ruler who has captured the state.

3.In the report Undue Diligence we revealed how $3 billion of Turkmenistan’s gas income was at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt under the effective personal control of then-president Niyazov. Deutsche Bank and the German regulator, BaFin, brushed off our concerns saying these were ‘state accounts’. However we had been told by a former chairman of the Central Bank that this money was treated by Niyazov as his ‘personal pocket money’.

4.Global Witness is also calling for:

  • national registries that list the ultimate owner or controller of companies and trusts. Corrupt politicians hide their identity, and therefore their assets, behind complex webs of front companies and legal structures. This can make it very difficult for banks, or law enforcement, to find out who actually controls assets.
  • if a bank cannot get its senior politician customers to explain their wealth, then it should turn down the money. Senior officials should be able to explain how their assets were earned legitimately, especially if there is a significant difference between their official salary and their actual wealth. If they cannot explain there should be a presumption that that their funds are the proceeds of corruption. This concept of “illicit enrichment” is already recognised in international treaties such as the United Nations and the Inter American conventions against corruption.

5. ICC comment on Gaddafi wealth:



Robert Palmer on +44 (0)20 7492 5860 or +44 (0)7545 645 406 Andrea Pattison on +44 (0)20 7492 5858 or +44 (0)7970 103 083 Oliver Courtney on +44 (0)20 7492 5848 or +44 (0)7815 731 889

Washington:    Stefanie Ostfeld on +1 202 621 6674 or +1 202 577 5858 Hong Kong:     Gavin Hayman on +44 (0)7843 058756

San Francisco to foot bill for sex change operations

By Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED:00:02 EST, 10  November 2012| UPDATED:00:28 EST, 10 November 2012


In  just a few days, San Francisco’s legislature will vote on a landmark new bill  that if approved would allow city employees to undergo sex change operations on  the government’s dime.

The comprehensive new program is part of the  city’s universal health plan and is designed to help transgendered individuals  who struggle physically and emotionally with their mismatched  bodies.

If approved, San Francisco would become the  first city to offer such benefits. Minnesota once had a similar program, but the  government eliminated it in 1998.

Historic: San Francisco legislators are prepared to vote on a landmark new bill that would cover sex change operations for city employees.Historic: San Francisco legislators are prepared to vote  on a landmark new bill that would cover sex change operations for city  employees.

The bill is the product of several members of  the city’s legislature, also known as the Board of Supervisors, and the  Transgender Law Center. After fighting on behalf of the bill for five years, the  city’s Health Commission finally approved the measure on Tuesday.

All that is left is for the full Board of  Supervisors to vote on the bill, which will come Monday.

Supporters of the new bill are calling this  move a historic step for not just LGBT equality but for civil liberty as a  whole. Board Supervisor Mark Leno, founder of the Transgender Civil Rights  Implementation Task Force he was proud to be voting on this bill.

‘We have transgender people living and  working among us,’ Leno said to ABC News. ‘They deserve the same dignity and  respect as every other citizen. One way is to make sure the city provides equal  benefits for equal work’

Likewise discrimination investigator  for the  San Francisco Human Rights Commission Marcus Arana said that  this measure is  what is fair.

“It really is a civil rights issue,” Arana  said. “We have an insurance issued that will pay for a hysterectomy in Mary but  not in Marcus, and will pay for hormone therapy in Mary but not in Marcus.”

But detractors have called the bill an  unaffordable luxury, especially during such an economically uncertain  time. This year, San Francisco’s budget  has surpassed $7 billion for the first time in history.

“Taxpayers cannot afford this, as there are  unintended costs and  unintended consequences unrelated to the actual surgery,  such as their  longer-term hormone treatment, psychology needs and other longer  term  health issues,” Thomas Moyer, a  resident and author of ‘A Conservative Survival Guide to San Francisco’ told Fox  News.

Equality: Supporters of the bill are calling the new bill a big step for LGBT rights and civil libertyEquality: Supporters of the bill are calling the new  bill a big step for LGBT rights and civil liberty

To be eligible for coverage under the new  program,  individuals will have to be employed by the city for at least one  year.  There is also a $50,000 lifetime cap and a 15 per cent of 50 per cent  deductible, which is determined based on whether or not the physician is within  the city’s health network.

On average, male-to-female surgeries cost  about $37,000, while female-to-male surgeries will cost about  $77,000.

The program will also cover hormone  treatments but will not fund cosmetic procedures. Employees also must  undergo  a rigorous medical review process that can take up to six  months, and a doctor  must deem all procedures medically necessary.

Read more: Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Spain’s politicians pledge to stop evictions after suicide

Posted 2012/11/10 at 1:51 pm EST

MADRID, Nov. 10, 2012 (Reuters) — Spain’s conservative prime minister and the leader of the opposition aim to agree measures on Monday to stop banks evicting homeowners after a woman’s suicide before her property was repossessed caused public outrage.

“No one should be without a home for not being able to pay,” Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, leader of the opposition Socialist Party said on Saturday.

Northern Spanish mortgage lender Kutxabank said it was suspending repossessions after 53-year-old former Socialist councillor Amaia Egana threw herself out of her fourth-storey apartment window in Barakaldo in the Basque Country as court officials came up the stairs to evict her on Friday.

Egana’s death, the second eviction-related suicide in Spain in recent weeks, added urgency to an agreement reached on Wednesday between the ruling conservative People’s Party and the Socialists to seek a bipartisan deal over repossessions.

Graffiti accusing bankers of murder and calling for an end to evictions appeared on some bank branches in the Basque Country on Saturday, Spanish media reported.

“We are living through things that no one likes to see, situations that are competely inhumane,” Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told a political meeting hours after Egana’s death. “I hope that on Monday we’ll be able to talk about a temporary suspension of evictions for the most vulnerable families.”

One measure would be to grant grace periods, Spanish media reported. Rajoy said the rules would not be retroactive, while Rubalcaba called for previous evictions to be included.

There have been nearly 400,000 evictions in Spain since a property bubble burst in 2008. Unemployment hit 25 percent in the third quarter, a record high and the European Commission expects the economy to contract 1.4 percent this year and next as the second recession since the end of 2009 drags on.

Last week, European Union Advocate General Juliane Kokott issued a non-binding report concluding that Spanish legislation on evictions contradicts European norms for protecting consumer rights. Europe’s highest court will now have to deliver an opinion.

Jose Miguel Domingo, a newsstand owner in Granada, in southern Spain, hung himself on October 25, before he was due to lose his home, local media reported.

The same week an unemployed man in Burjassot, a town in the eastern region of Valencia, threw himself off a balcony on the day his family was to be evicted from their apartment. Reports said the man survived the fall.

(Reporting By Iciar Reinlein; Additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Writing by Tracy Rucinski; editing by Jason Webb)


Actor Gerard Depardieu joins French tax exiles in Belgium

Gerard Depardieu

    President Hollande blamed for driving out a ‘national  treasure’ with planned 75 per cent top tax rate


LAST UPDATED AT 16:06 ON Fri 9 Nov  2012
FRENCH President Francois Hollande is under fire after reports that his policy  of increasing taxes for the rich has prompted actor Gerard Depardieu to flee the  country and move to Belgium.

Depardieu is reported to have bought a  property just over the border from Lille, and according to The Times the news has prompted “a bout of hand-wringing in  Paris over the loss of a figure widely considered to be a national  treasure”.

Belgian newspaper Le Soir said on Thursday that Depardieu had agreed to  purchase a property in the village of Nechin and, after agreeing the deal, was  seen dining in a “chic and gastronomic” restaurant where he posed for pictures  with fans.

French news magazine Le Point described the village as a “tax haven” for rich  families from northern France. “Nechin may be less glamorous than London,  Geneva, Brussels and its climate is less pleasant than Monaco, but 27 per cent  of the population is French,” it noted.

Among Depardieu’s  neighbours will be members of the Mulliez family, who own the Auchan supermarket  chain.

It is widely believed that the actor, who plays Obelix in  the French Asterix movies but found fame outside his homeland with Hollywood  films like Green Card, is moving to escape Hollande’s new tax  system.

“The subject of the country’s wealthy moving abroad to  avoid the tax man has long been a fiery issue in France, and has only been  heightened by the proposed 75 per cent tax rate for top earners, due to be  introduced in 2013,” reported France 24.

“Although Depardieu’s fortune has  never been disclosed, it includes a production company, vineyards in Anjou,  Bordeaux, Italy and Morocco and a restaurant in Paris,” added the Times.

He is not the first famous actor to leave France since Hollande’s  election in May – his Asterix co-star Christian Clavier has moved to London.

And there was a political row earlier this year when France’s richest  man, Bernard Arnault, revealed he had applied for Belgian citizenship, although  he maintained the move had nothing to do with avoiding tax. ·

Read more:


U.K. probing money-laundering claims even as New Delhi remains ‘indifferent’

Hasan Suroor

“We received the data and we are studying it,” says HMRC

Even as the Indian government faced criticism for not taking action over claims of black money allegedly held by Indians in HSBC’s branch in Geneva, the British tax authorities on Friday launched an investigation into allegations of money-laundering against the bank following claims it had opened offshore bank accounts in Jersey for “serious criminals” living in Britain.

A whistle-blower was reported to have secretly provided a detailed list of names, addresses and bank accounts of HSBC’s alleged clients. These were said to include names of several people with criminal convictions, including gun-runners and drug dealers.

HSBC said it was “investigating the reports of an alleged loss of certain client data in Jersey as a matter of urgency.”

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) confirmed that it had “received the data and we are studying it.”

“We receive information from a very wide range of sources which we use to ensure the tax rules are being respected. Clamping down on those who try to cheat the system through evading taxes and over-claiming benefits is a top priority for us, and we value the information we receive from the public and business community,” it said after a newspaper reported that the tax authorities had obtained details of every British client of HSBC in Jersey.

The move came as anti-corruption campaigners in India complained that no action had been taken more than a year after the French government gave India a CD containing names of 700 Indian clients who had accounts in HSBC’s Geneva branch.

HSBC, which is facing a fine of nearly $1.5 billion in the U.S. for breaking money laundering rules, said it had not been informed of any investigation by HMRC but would fully cooperate with it.

“HSBC remains fully committed to adoption of the highest global standards, including the procedures for the acceptance of clients,” it said.

The Daily Telegraph, which broke the story, said that the list given to HMRC identified more than 4,000 people holding £699 million in offshore accounts. It reportedly included names of several celebrities and other well-known figures.

“The information obtained by HMRC is thought to be the biggest data leak, identifying holders of offshore accounts ever obtained by the British tax authorities,’’ it said.

Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to crack down on tax evaders in the wake of the financial crisis.


HSBC investigation: Drug dealers, gun runners and Britain’s biggest bank

Britain’s biggest bank is at the centre of a major HM Revenue and Customs investigation after it opened offshore accounts in Jersey for serious criminals living in this country, The Telegraph can disclose.

HSBC bank sign, pile of guns, cannabis plant, Mount Orgueil Castle and harbour, Gorey, Jersey

The disclosures raise serious questions about HSBC’s procedures in Jersey Photo: ALAMY/REUTERS

By , Robert Winnett and Claire Newell

9:52PM GMT 08 Nov 2012

The tax authorities have obtained details of every British client of HSBC in Jersey after a whistleblower secretly provided a detailed list of names, addresses and account balances earlier this week.

The Telegraph understands that among those identified on the list are Daniel Bayes, a drug dealer who is now in Venezuela; Michael Lee, who was convicted of possessing more than 300 weapons at his house in Devon; three bankers facing major fraud allegations and a man once dubbed London’s “number two computer crook”. A series of other accounts containing six-figure deposits are also registered to modest addresses in relatively poor parts of the country.

The disclosures raise serious questions about HSBC’s procedures in Jersey, with the bank already preparing to pay fines of around $1.5 billion in America for breaking money laundering rules.

The bank is legally obliged to report to the authorities any suspicions about the source of money deposited in its accounts.

HM Revenue and Customs is now understood to be trawling through a list of the names and addresses of more than 4,000 people based in Britain who had bank accounts at HSBC in Jersey.

This work is expected to lead to the identification of hundreds of people who are evading tax as the accounts have not been previously disclosed.

Last night, a spokesman for HMRC said: “We can confirm we have received the data and we are studying it. We receive information from a very wide range of sources which we use to ensure the tax rules are being respected.

“Clamping down on those who try to cheat the system through evading taxes and over claiming benefits is a top priority for us and we value the information we receive from the public and business community.”

The Telegraph has established from public records that HSBC has opened bank accounts in Jersey for several people who are wanted by the police or have serious criminal convictions.

The information obtained by HMRC is thought to be the biggest data leak identifying holders of offshore accounts ever obtained by the British tax authorities.

The list identifies 4,388 people holding £699 million in offshore current accounts and they are also likely to have billions of pounds more in investment schemes. Several celebrities and other well-known figures are understood to be identified in the client data.

Tax authorities around the world are involved in an increasingly aggressive race to obtain details of their citizens with offshore bank accounts, many of which are suspected to be linked to tax evasion or other criminal activity. An insider at HSBC in Switzerland has already sold details of the bank’s clients in Geneva to tax authorities in 2008. This led to the creation of the so-called “Lagarde list”, named after the then French finance minister, with about 2,000 Britons identified. Last week, a Greek journalist was threatened with prosecution after disclosing details of Greek account holders on the Lagarde list.

The leak of the Jersey data, which is understood not to have involved HMRC paying for the list, is expected to have global ramifications as more than 4,000 residents of other countries are identified, although British residents account for more than half of all the clients.

The HSBC Jersey client list is understood to be heavily dominated by senior figures in the City. Dozens of bankers are understood to have deposited six-figure sums offshore with some institutions said to have “clusters” of employees taking advantage of the accounts.

Doctors, mining and oil executives and oil workers are also heavily represented in the list. More unexpectedly, a greengrocer in the East End is understood to have more than £80,000 in his HSBC current account in Jersey.

Although some of the individuals may have declared the offshore holdings, HMRC is currently understood to be comparing the new documents with tax records to identify anomalies.

One investment manager has more than £6 million in his account, while the average amount held is £337,000. Under Britain’s non-domicile rules, those with foreign roots only have to pay tax on money entering Britain – provided it is earned abroad. However, more seriously for HSBC, dozens of people with no obvious legal source of substantial income are holding large sums in Jersey.

Daniel Bayes was branded “monstrous” for refusing to return from Venezuela after £500,000 of cannabis was found growing at his farm in 2006.

His father was jailed for three years in his absence. Mr Bayes is understood to have deposited £250,000 in an offshore account, although police said they would still like to question him.

A couple who live in a small house in Teignmouth, Devon, deposited £85,000 in an offshore account. More than 300 firearms, including Israeli Uzi submachine guns and pump-action shotguns, were found in their house after a police raid in 2001. Michael Lee was jailed for two years in 2002.

Around the world, HSBC has faced repeated accusations that it was not maintaining sufficient controls over the source of money deposited in its accounts. Money laundering rules demand that banks monitor the source of money and report any suspicions to the relevant authorities. Most banks take an active approach to this duty.

In July, a US Senate investigation found that money-laundering controls were largely absent in HSBC’s operations in Mexico. The bank has also faced serious criticism for hiding Iranian transactions.

One analyst called HSBC’s practices “a wink/nod business model” that showed “a profound lack of controls”.

Stuart Gulliver, the chief executive of HSBC, previously admitted: “We failed to spot and deal with unacceptable behaviour.” He insisted the bank would begin to operate at “a single standard globally that is determined by the highest standard we must apply anywhere”.

A spokesman for the bank said last night: “HSBC has a duty of confidentiality and cannot comment on clients even to confirm or deny they are clients. We have good relationships with our regulators and co-operate with investigations when required to do so.”

Whistle-blowers helping authorities chase tax evaders

TAX authorities around the world are involved in an increasingly aggressive and often clandestine race to gain information on the identities of those with offshore bank accounts.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to whistle-blowers in return for information about offshore account holders. German authorities reportedly paid €2.5 million (£1.9 million) to an unnamed individual for a CD containing details of HSBC clients in Switzerland in 2010.

The data contained information that led prosecutors to believe that more than £1 billion of undeclared income had been deposited by 1,100 wealthy Germans.

Last week, a Greek magazine published a list of HSBC’s Swiss bank account holders. It is known as the “Lagarde List”, because the then French finance minister Christine Lagarde — now the International Monetary Fund director — handed it to Greek authorities in 2010.

HMRC also received details of British residents from this list and has investigated 500 of those identified.

HMRC is understood not to have paid for information about HSBC’s Jersey clients but the data it has received is thought to be the single biggest disclosure of a bank’s offshore customers.

The Daily Telegraph understands that the whistleblower who has obtained the information also has further lists of offshore HSBC clients with addresses outside Britain, including 602 in Israel, 527 in France, 333 in Spain and 117 in the US. In total, the leaked HSBC Jersey client list is thought to contain the names and addresses of 8,474 people. More than half are based in this country.

The use of tax havens by British residents and citizens to minimise tax is legal but subject to a range of complex rules and regulations. British taxpayers have a duty to report to HMRC details of money held offshore that is liable to tax.

British officials will continue to provide up to £30 million worth of expert advice to India every year, even after aid to the country is cut.

UK will still send £30m of ‘expertise’ to India after aid cuts

India aid - Indian children stand in a queue for relief food in Cuddalore some 185 kms south of Madras, 30 December 2004

Existing schemes that have already been agreed will continue until the last of them concludes in 2015, when all UK financial aid to India will cease Photo: AFP

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By , Political Correspondent

1:51PM GMT 09 Nov 2012

Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, told MPs that no new financial aid programmes would be agreed for India, with immediate effect.

Existing grants that have already been signed off will continue until the last expires in 2015, when all UK financial aid to the country will cease, she said.

However, officials confirmed that Britain will continue to provide an estimated £30 million of “technical assistance” to India after the financial aid dries. The government said this was a recognition of India’s “successful transition” to a major global economic power.

Miss Greening’s decision follows a visit to India for talks on future aid arrangements this week.

Officials said she was told that the Indian government valued Britain’s “technical assistance” far more than the grants that currently comprise the bulk of the UK’s £280 million annual aid programme to the country.

In February this year, Pranab Mukherjee, then India’s finance minister and now the country’s president, suggested Britain’s aid programme represented “a peanut in our total development expenditure”.

Miss Greening said it was time for Britain and India “to move to a relationship focussing on skills-sharing rather than aid”.

“Having visited India I have seen first hand the tremendous progress being made. India is successfully developing and our own bilateral relationship has to keep up.

“It is of course critical that we fulfil all the commitments we have already made and that we continue with those short-term projects already underway which are an important part of the UK and Government of India’s development programme.”

The UK’s overall financial contribution to India since the Coalition took office is expected to total more than £1 billion.

After 2015, the contribution of Britain’s technical expertise to development programmes in India will cost an estimated £30 million, about one tenth of the current aid budget to the country.

New programmes will focus on sharing British expertise in areas such as growth and trade, skills training and healthcare. Private sector projects will also be encouraged with British help, in an effort to benefit India’s poor and generate a profit at the same time.

As existing grants are phased out, the government expects to save around £200 million over the next three years.

In recent years, India has emerged as a major economic power and now has its own space programme as well as an international development scheme providing £328 million a year to other countries.

Miss Greening’s announcement is likely to be seen as a sign that Britain intends to cut aid to wealthier nations, including those that are preparing to enter the EU, and focus instead on the poorest countries.

She told the Conservative conference last month: “We should recognise that as countries get richer, we need to be responsible about how we transition in our relationship with them from aid to trade.”

Some Tories want David Cameron to abandon the promise to spent 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid, an amount that will reach £12.6 billion by 2014.

This commitment will not be affected by the announcement on India and officials said money saved was likely to be spent on aid to poorer parts of the world.

Gerald Howarth, the Conservative MP for Aldershot and a former defence minister, welcomed the cuts and said he would like the overall development budget to be reduced. “I welcome this as a first step in hopefully ultimately reducing the overseas aid budget,” he said.

Robert Oxley, Campaign Manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, told BBC News that ministers should stop aid to India sooner.

“The Government has been roundly criticised for continuing to send money to India. It’s been £280m and let’s not kid ourselves, that budget isn’t stopping now. It will continue on till 2015,” he said.

“This is also only a bit of spin. Ministers have been saying they were going to undo this programme for quite a while.”

He suggsted India did not need of British aid. “It’s got space programmes, it’s got quite a significant defence force and it is the largest democracy in the world and so this isn’t about Britain abandoning its commitments but saying there is a limited pot of money, where’s it going to go?”

However, charities criticised the decision. Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy, Phil Bloomer, said: “We’re concerned that completely withdrawing British aid to India by 2015 is too hasty. It’s crucial that we don’t cut off money which gives a lifeline to poor families, and a third of the world’s poorest people live in India.

“The scale of the challenge remains huge, as 250 million Indian citizens go to bed hungry tonight.”

Exclusive: SEC left computers vulnerable to cyber attacks – sources

By Sarah N. LynchPosted 2012/11/08 at 8:55 pm EST

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2012 (Reuters) — Staffers at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission failed to encrypt some of their computers containing highly sensitive information from stock exchanges, leaving the data vulnerable to cyber attacks, according to people familiar with the matter.

While the computers were unprotected, there was no evidence that hacking or spying on the SEC’s computers took place, these people said.

The computers and other electronic devices in question belonged to a handful of employees in an office within the SEC’s Trading and Markets Division. That office is responsible for making sure exchanges follow certain guidelines to protect the markets from potential cyber threats and systems problems, one of those people said.

Some of the staffers even brought the unprotected devices to a Black Hat convention, a conference where computer hacking experts gather to discuss the latest trends. It is not clear why the staffers brought the devices to the event.

The security lapses in the Trading and Markets Division are laid out in a yet-to-be-released report that by the SEC’s Interim Inspector General Jon Rymer.


The revelation comes as the SEC is encouraging companies to get more serious about cyber attacks. Last year, the agency issued guidance that public companies should follow in determining when to report breaches to investors.

Cyber security has become an even more pressing issue after high-profile companies from Lockheed Martin Corp to Bank of America Corp have fallen victim to hacking in recent years.

Nasdaq OMX Group, which runs the No. 2 U.S. equities exchange, in 2010 suffered a cyber attack on its collaboration software for corporate boards, but its trading systems were not breached.

One of the people familiar with the SEC’s security lapse said the agency was forced to spend at least $200,000 and hire a third-party firm to conduct a thorough analysis to make sure none of the data was compromised.

The watchdog’s report has already been circulated to the SEC’s five commissioners, as well as to key lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and is expected to be made public soon.

SEC spokesman John Nester declined to comment on the report’s findings.


Rich Adamonis, a spokesman for the New York Stock Exchange, said the exchange operator is “disappointed” with the SEC’s lapse.

“From the moment we were informed, we have been actively seeking clarity from the SEC to understand the full extent of the use of improperly secured devices and the information involved, as well as the actions taken by the SEC to ensure that there is proper remediation and a complete audit trail for the information,” he said.

A spokesman for Nasdaq OMX declined to comment on the security lapse at the SEC.

Since the internal investigation was concluded, the SEC initiated disciplinary actions against the people involved, one of the people familiar with the matter said.

The SEC also notified all of the exchanges about the incident.

The SEC’s Trading and Markets Division, which has several hundred staffers, is primarily responsible for overseeing the U.S. equity markets, ensuring compliance with rules and writing regulations for exchanges and brokerages.

Among the division’s tasks is to ensure exchanges are following a series of voluntary guidelines known as “Automation Review Policies,” or ARPs. These policies call for exchanges to establish programs concerning computer audits, security and capacity. They are, in essence, a road map of the capital markets’ infrastructure.

Although they are only voluntary guidelines, exchanges take them seriously.

Under the ARP, exchanges must provide highly secure information to the SEC such as architectural maps, systems recovery and business continuity planning details in the event of a disaster or other major event.

That is the same kind of data used by exchanges last week after Hurricane Sandy forced U.S. equities markets to shut down for two days.

Prior to re-opening, all of the U.S. stock market operators took part in coordinated testing for trading on NYSE’s backup system.

SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro recently said the SEC is working to convert the voluntary ARP guidelines into enforceable rules after a software error at Knight Capital Group nearly bankrupt the brokerage and led to a $440 million trading loss.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Karey Wutkowski and Lisa Shumaker)


Benghazi documents available to senators only today and tomorrow, when most senators are not in Washington

Benghazi documents available to senators only when they are out of town

   Posted By Josh RoginThursday, November 8, 2012 – 12:16 PM Share

Under pressure from senators, the State Department is allowing some lawmakers to look at cables and other documents related to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, but only today and tomorrow, when most senators are not in Washington.

Congress is gearing up for a full week of Benghazi-related hearings next week, including a Nov. 13 hearing behind closed doors of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Chairman John Kerry (D-MA). Kerry has written two letters to the State Department requesting congressional access to information and documents related to the circumstances leading up to and during the attack that killed AmbassadorChris Stevens. Several sensitive documents have already been leaked to congressional offices and the media, so the State Department has decided to let some senators view Benghazi documents but not take them home.

“We are currently in the process of gathering and reviewing record responsive to Congressional requests. Our efforts have already identified a large volume of potentially responsive records that address the security situation leading up to the attack,” State Department Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs David Adams wrote to Kerry on Nov. 2 in a letter obtained by The Cable.

“To facilitate your committee’s work, we want to offer you and other members of the committee the opportunity to review these cables and memoranda. This set of material contains classified and other sensitive information… Mindful of these concerns, the Department is prepared to make copies of these documents available for the committee’s in camera review.”

One senior GOP Senate staffer told The Cable that State is only making the documents available for senators and committee staff to view today and tomorrow, which won’t actually allow the members to prepare for the hearing. Staffers for committee members are also not allowed to see the material.

“Funny since no member is in town,” the aide said. “The timing and limited access clearly demonstrates the administration cares more about playing politics with the tragedy than accepting responsibility.”

Committee members Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) sent Clinton a letter Nov. 2 asking that the documents be sent to the committee, not just made available for viewing on a limited basis.

“Over the past several weeks, cables, emails and other communications regarding the security situation in Benghazi prior to and since the attack on our consulate have been leaked to some Congressional offices and media outlets, resulting in conflicting reports in the press. We have also called for the official transmittal of these documents and are still awaiting your response,” Corker and Isakson wrote. “On September 25, 2012 and again on October 3, 2012, we sent you letters requesting that all communications between the diplomatic mission in Libya and the State Department related to the security situation be transmitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee without delay. We respectfully ask for an update on the status of our requests for these documents.”

UPDATE: Thursday afternoon, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) annouced the witness list for the Nov. 15 Benhgazi closed hearing at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The witnesses will be Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director David Petraeus, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce,Under Secretary of State for Management Pat Kennedy,andNational Counterterrorism Center DirectorMatthew Olsen.

UPDATE #2: A spokesperson for Corker told The Cable that after Corker spoke directly with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the State Department agreed to allow staffers for Sens. James Risch (R-ID) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) view the documents while their bosses are out of town. Corker will be in Washington Friday and will view them himself as well, the spokesperson said.

Crisis: Greece;unemployment hits 25.4% in August, new record



(ANSAmed) – ATHENS, NOVEMBER 8 – Greece’s jobless rate rose for a 39th consecutive month to a new record of 25.4% in August, more than double the euro zone average, Kathomerini online reports quoting Greece’s statistics service ELSTAT. The jobless rate has more than tripled since the country’s five-year economic slump began in 2008. It now stands at 58% for those aged between 15 and 24 years, compared with 20% in August 2008.

Huge $3.1 billion payday at Facebook makes Sheryl Sandberg one of the richest women in the world, but will employees stay at the company?

  • Facebook’s operator Sheryl Sandberg earned  $7.4 million last week after receiving $401 million in company stock
  • Tech blogs are wondering if employees will  begin leaving the company after a huge $3.1 billion payday
  • Facebook’s stock closed on Monday at $21.16  a share, down from $45 when the company went public

By Damian Ghigliotty

PUBLISHED:23:05 EST, 5  November 2012| UPDATED:23:05 EST, 5 November 2012



She is certainly well on her way to becoming  the world’s richest woman.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating  officer, just took home a fat bundle of cash after receiving $401 million in  company stock and selling 2% of her shares for $7.4 million.

Her big reward was part of a $3.1 billion  dollar payday at the company last week after restrictions on insider trading  expired.

Making friends: Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg talks to the press at a Seoul, Korea hotel on September 14, 2012.Making friends: Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl  Sandberg talks to the press at a Seoul, Korea hotel on September 14, 2012.

43-year-old Sandberg sold 339,512 of her  shares at about $21.10 each on Halloween, according to Bloomberg  News. She still owns close to 20  million shares of company stock.

The big question suddenly buzzing throughout  the tech community is whether Sandberg and other employees will stay at the  company for much longer.

Facebook workers can now pursue life-long  dreams they put on hold to work there without any financial  concerns, TechCrunch  notes.

Facebook’s stock has hovered around $21 a  share since July, down more than 50 per cent from a high of $45 when the company  went public in May.

Home base: Facebook's corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, California.Home base: Facebook’s corporate headquarters in Menlo  Park, California.


Inside look: Facebook employees at work inside the company's headquarters. 

Inside look: Facebook employees at work inside the  company’s headquarters.

Sandberg joined Facebook in 2008 and helped  build it into the world’s largest social networking site worth more than $50  billion. Some estimates put her total net worth around $2 billion.

Prior to joining Facebook Sandberg worked at  Google as vice president of operations and online sales. Prior to working at  Google she served as chief of staff for the U.S. Treasury Department.

Facebook’s first employees, including  28-year-old founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, have been at the  company for almost nine years now.

Zuckerberg has promised to not sell any of  his Facebook shares before September 2013

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IMF warns over-taxed France risks slipping behind Italy and Spain

The International Monetary Fund has told France to take urgent measures to head off national economic decline, warning that the country risks being left behind as southern Europe embraces reform.

France's President Francois Hollande delivers a speech for the opening of the International trade fair for livestock Space 2012 in Rennes

Francois Hollande is facing a nationwide revolt by business leaders Photo: Reuters

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7:26PM GMT 05 Nov 2012


Throwing the guantlet at the feet of the Socialist president Francois Hollande, the IMF said rising tax rates are undermining France as a place “to work and invest” and leading to a “significant loss of competitiveness”.

“There is a risk it will get worse if France does not adapt at the same pace as its trading partners in Europe, notably Italy and Spain,” it said.

The IMF challenge had an added piquancy coming from a body headed by France’s Christine Lagarde, widely touted as the next Gaulliste leader and a future rival for the French presidency.

The warning came as French industrialist Louis Gallois delivered a long-awaited report to Mr Hollande calling for “shock therapy” to stop the national rot, with drastic cuts in business payroll taxes to claw back loss ground against Germany and other EMU states.

Mr Gallois, ex-head of the EADS aerospace group and a revered figure in France, said all parties need to unite in a patriotic push to save the nation.

His report listed 22 measures. These include a €30bn cut in payroll levies, worth 1.5pc of GDP, to be offset by a higher VAT and other consumption taxes. The aim is to reduce the “tax wedge”, or tax share of labour costs. This has risen to 50pc, among the world’s highest.

Mr Gallois called for a state bank to channel cheap credit to exporters, a subsidy likely to raise the eyebrows of the EU’s competition police.

Much of the report is a slap in the face for Mr Hollande who cut VAT in June to protect buying power and has just raised company taxes yet further in the 2013 budget. He is facing a nationwide revolt by business leaders.

Arnaud Montebourg, the production revival minister, vowed to study the report with “respect”, acknowledging that France faces a national emergency.

French industry has been losing 60,000 jobs a year for a decade, cutting manufacturing to 12pc of GDP – the same as Britain. This has become a neuraligic issue over recent months with a string of high-profile plant closures and a state rescue for Renault, which saw car sales crash 26pc in October.

“The socialist government is not ready to confront the unions or reform the French economy funadamentally,” said professor Eric Dor from IESEG School of Management in Lille.

“We are wasting years. Unlike Germany, we don’t compete well in hi-tech areas and we face competition from Italy and Spain as they cut unit labour costs. The government is in denial about this,” he said.

France’s share of world exports has fallen to 3pc from 6.3pc in 1990, losing ground against Spain, Beglium, and Holland, as well as Germany. The trade balance has switched from surplus of 2.5pc of GDP to a deficit of 2.4pc over the last twelve years.

While Germany squeezed wages in the early EMU years to gain an edge, France let unit labour costs ratchet upwards to €35.30 an hour. This is now 10pc above German levels. The IMF said much of French industry is in “low to medium-tech products” that face rivals in Asia.

Gaulliste deputy Jacques Myard said it is too late for France to claw back the lost ground within EMU. “Only a devaluation of 30pc against Germany can restore the competitiveness of French firms and provide the necessary shock. We have to confront the real issue, which is that the euro is strangling the French economy. We have to leave. All else is just waffle,” he said.

Free market critics say France’s root problem is a Leviathan state – now 56pc of GDP, higher than Denmark – combined with cossetted welfare and early retirement. Just 40pc of those aged 55 to 64 are in work, compared with 57.7pc in Germany.

Mr Gallois was careful not to criticise the sacred modèle français. He also dropped his call for shale gas development after the Greens said it would “absolutely violate” the party’s post-election deal with Mr Hollande.

Dominique Barbet from BNP Paribas said faiure to exploit France abundant shale reserves may prove as costly mistake as nuclear power plants age and French electricity prices climb towards EU levels. “The loss of this comparative advantage threatens the existence of entire energy-intensive manufacturing sectors, such as aluminium, glass, and steel,” he said.

Mr Hollande promised “tough decisions” when he unveils his own reform package on Tuesday.

Mr Dor said the president had better deliver. “If he refuses to act, the markets will act for him. Perhaps that is the sort of shock that it will take.”