Tuesday, 19 February 2013
Bolivia nationalized the company that runs the three largest airports in Bolivia because the government claims the company did not invest in improving the airports.
real estate company Reyal Urbis filed for insolvency after failing to renegotiate debt with its creditors.
Spain's property market crash claimed another victim on Tuesday, as real estate company Reyal Urbis filed for insolvency after failing to renegotiate debt with its creditors.
The move takes the property developer, which had 3.6 billion euros ($4.8 billion) of debt at the end of September, closer to becoming Spain's second-largest bankruptcy after Martinsa Fadesa, which defaulted on 7 billion euros of debt in 2008.
Dozens of property companies have collapsed in Spain, where house prices have fallen around 40 percent since their 2007 peak. With the country locked in a deep recession, analysts expect prices to fall further still.
Spain's banks were crippled by the property market bust, eventually requiring the state to agree a European bailout for its lenders of almost 40 billion euros last year. Indebted property firms have asked banks for debt relief but patience is wearing thin among lenders saddled with soured property assets.
Reyal Urbis is 70 percent owned by construction magnate Rafael Santamaria and its creditors include Santander, BBVA, Bankia and Banco Popular.
The company, which valued its property portfolio at 4.2 billion euros in June 2012, said it would continue to operate as permitted by Spanish insolvency laws.
Its insolvency petition now goes to court and its fate will be in the hands of a judge.
Reyal Urbis said Santamaria would remain at the helm of the company and he still hoped Reyal Urbis could reach a deal with its creditors, given "the good will of all negotiating parties".
The company had until Feb. 23 to reach a debt restructuring deal with the banks or file for insolvency. Sources close to the matter told Reuters on Friday that creditors had rejected the company's 3.6-billion-euro proposal.
Trading in the company's shares was suspended on Tuesday, Spain's stock market regulator said. The stock had plunged 99 percent since June 2007 to close at 0.124 euros on Monday.
At the end of 2011, Reyal Urbis owned some 888 finished homes in a country where over a million homes lie empty. The company also had 8 million square metres of land for development and 237,000 square metres of commercial property, including offices, shopping centres, industrial property and hotels.
Tuesday, 7 August 2012
A former Lloyds Bank worker in charge of online security has admitted carrying out a fraud worth more than £2.4m. Jessica Harper, 50, had been accused of submitting false invoices to claim payments between 2007 and 2011. At the time she was working as head of fraud and security for digital banking and made false claims totalling £2,463,750. Harper, of South Croydon, south London, will be sentenced on 21 September. At Southwark Crown Court, Harper admitted a single charge of fraud by abuse of position by submitting false invoices to claim payments. 'A very simple fraud' She also admitted a single charge of transferring criminal property, the money, which she had defrauded from her employers. Harper was arrested on 21 December before being charged in May. Continue reading the main story “ Start Quote Jessica Harper has today been convicted of the type of crime the bank employed her to combat” Sue Patten Crown Prosecution Service Antony Swift, prosecuting, did not open the facts of the case but said it was a "a very simple fraud". He added Harper had already repaid £300,000 and was in the process of selling her house for about £700,000. "That will be some £1m out of £2.5m that's gone missing," he told the judge. Carol Hawley, defending, said: "She appreciates the seriousness and has made full admissions in interview. "She understands perfectly well on the next occasion she will be facing imprisonment of some length." Breach of trust Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith granted Harper bail on the condition she stays at her current address, obeys a 21:00 to 07:00 curfew and hands in her passport. Sue Patten, head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Central Fraud Division, said: "Jessica Harper has today been convicted of the type of crime the bank employed her to combat. "The evidence in the case was clear and left Harper with little choice but to plead guilty. "In doing so, she has admitted to a huge breach of trust against her former employer." Lloyds is now 39.7% state-owned after being bailed out by the government during the financial crisis.
Shares in Standard Chartered PLC dropped sharply today as investors reacted to US charges that the bank was involved in laundering money for Iran. The charges against Standard Chartered were a shock for a bank which proudly described itself recently as “boring.” Shares were down nearly 20 percent at 1,187 pence at one point in early trading Tuesday on the London Stock Exchange. In Hong Kong, they were down 16.6 percent near the end of the session. New York State Department of Financial Services alleged on Monday that Standard Chartered schemed with the Iranian government to launder $250 billion from 2001 to 2007, leaving the United States' financial system “vulnerable to terrorists.” Standard Chartered said it “strongly rejects” the allegations. In a statement, the bank said “well over 99.9 percent” of the questioned transactions with Iran complied with all regulations, and the exceptions amounted to $14 million. The New York regulator ordered Standard Chartered representatives to appear in New York City on Aug. 15 “to explain these apparent violations of law” and to demonstrate why its license to operate in the State of New York “should not be revoked.” Gary Greenwood, analyst at Shore Capital in London, said the possible revocation of the New York license was of far greater concern than any potential fine, which could run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Standard Chartered's US operation facilitates trade for customers that have operations in both the United States and emerging markets. “Indeed, this is an area of the business that has been highlighted by management for growth,” Greenwood said. “A loss of its US banking license would not only jeopardize part of this profit stream, but the associated reputational damage could also have a severely damaging impact to its operations within emerging markets.” The New York agency alleged that Standard Chartered conspired with Iranian clients to route nearly 60,000 different US dollar payments through Standard Chartered's New York branch “after first stripping information from wire transfer messages used to identify sanctioned countries, individuals and entities.” The New York regulators called the bank a rogue institution and quoted one of its executives as saying: “You (expletive) Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we're not going to deal with Iranians.” The order also identifies an October 2006 “panicked message” from a London group executive director who worried the transactions could lead to “very serious or even catastrophic reputational damage to the group.” If proven, the scheme would violate state money-laundering laws. The order also accuses the bank of falsifying business records, obstructing governmental administration, failing to report misconduct to the state quickly, evading federal sanctions and other illegal acts. Between 2004 and 2007, about half the period covered by the order, the department claims Standard Chartered hid from and lied about its Iranian transactions to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Before 2008, banks were allowed to transact some business with Iran, but only with full reporting and disclosure, the order states. In 2008, the US Treasury Department stopped those transactions because it suspected they helped pay for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and finance terrorist groups including Hamas and Hezbollah. The order states the bank has to provide information and answer questions to determine if any of the funding aided the groups or Iran's nuclear program. Last week, Standard Chartered' chief executive, Peter Sands, boasted that the bank has racked up a 10-year string of record first-half profits “amidst all the turbulence in the global economy and the apparently never-ending turmoil in the world of banking.” “It may seem boring in contrast to what is going on elsewhere, but we see some virtue in being boring,” Sands added.
Friday, 6 July 2012
Bankers face the prospect of jail as Serious Fraud Office launches criminal probe into interest-rate fixing at Barclays
Hearing: Former chief executive Bob Diamond left Barclays over the matter, before appearing before MPs this week
A criminal investigation has been launched into alleged rigging of the Libor rate within the banking industry, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) confirmed today.
SFO director David Green QC formally accepted the Libor issue for investigation after Barclays was fined by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) last week for manipulating the key interbank lending rate which affects mortgages and loans.
The claims ultimately led to the resignation of Barclays boss Bob Diamond and have become the focal point of a fierce political debate over ethics in the banking sector.
The investigation could ultimately lead to criminal prosecutions and bankers facing charges in court.
The SFO's update came after it revealed earlier this week that it had been working closely with the FSA during its investigation and would consider the potential for criminal prosecutions.
The Government department, which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting serious and complex fraud, said on Monday the issues surrounding Libor were "complex" and that assessing the evidence would take time.
Under fire: Barclays former chairman Marcus Agius (right) with former CEO Bob Diamond (centre), and former chief executive John Varley (left)
As the SFO prepares its investigation, Labour leader Ed Miliband continued to push for an independent inquiry into the banking scandal despite MPs rejecting the demands.
The Labour leader said that while the party would cooperate with a parliamentary investigation, its remit was too "narrow" and a judge-led probe was still needed.
Mr Miliband also defended the conduct of Ed Balls after the shadow chancellor engaged in a bitter war of words with his opposite number George Osborne in the Commons.
Tuesday, 3 July 2012
Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond has resigned with immediate effect. The move comes less than a week after the bank was fined a record amount for trying to manipulate inter-bank lending rates. Mr Diamond said he was stepping down because the external pressure on the bank risked "damaging the franchise". Chairman Marcus Agius, who said on Monday he was stepping down, will take over the running of Barclays until a replacement is found. "I am deeply disappointed that the impression created by the events announced last week about what Barclays and its people stand for could not be further from the truth," Mr Diamond said in a statement. He will still appear before MPs on the Treasury Committee to answer questions about the Libor affair on Wednesday. "I look forward to fulfilling my obligation to contribute to the Treasury Committee's enquiries related to the settlements that Barclays announced last week without my leadership in question," Mr Diamond said. Last week, regulators in the US and UK fined Barclays £290m ($450m) for attempting to rig Libor and Euribor, the interest rates at which banks lend to each other, which underpin trillions of pounds worth of financial transactions. Staff did this over a number of years, trying to raise them for profit and then, during the financial crisis, lowering them to hide the level to which Barclays was under financial stress. Prime Minister David Cameron has described the rigging of Libor rates as "a scandal". The Serious Fraud Office is also considering whether to bring criminal charges.
Sunday, 17 June 2012
Even by the standards of euro-zone bailouts, which usually are greeted with applause but swiftly fizzle, the rescue of Spain’s banks, announced on June 9, was a disappointment. Relief in the markets lasted only hours. Yields on Spanish bonds soon started to rise. Within days they had reached their highest point since the introduction of the euro, a level that, if sustained, would tip Spain into insolvency. Ominously, yields also rose on German bonds, the euro area’s haven. Investors are wondering whether the euro itself will survive. The package has some good points. Compared with previous bailouts — of Greece, Ireland and Portugal — the rescuers acted early. Spain’s government was offered money to fix its banks before it was shut off from financial markets. The sum offered is big: Madrid has been promised loans of as much as $125 billion, enough to shore up its banks even if the economy shrinks a good bit further. Though no details have yet been agreed on, the interest rate on the rescue funds will doubtless be well below the 6.7 per cent that Spanish 10-year bonds reached this week. And, unlike earlier rescues, this one comes without toxic demands for yet more austerity. A year ago a proper cleanup of Spain’s banks, with this kind of outside support, might have been enough. Not now. The country’s property and bank bust has been compounded by a massive loss of investor confidence. Capital has drained from Spain at an accelerating pace in recent months, for two reasons. First, investors are worried by the vicious spiral of a weakening economy, tottering banks and worsening government finances. Second, they are losing confidence in the single currency and Spain’s place within it. This bank rescue does too little to assuage the first worry and nothing to deal with the second. That is why it won’t work. Begin with the poisonous links between the banks and the budget. Rather than injecting the funds straight into the banking system, Spain’s rescuers are lending them to the government. That could raise its debt by as much as 10 percentage points of GDP. Moreover, if the money comes from the European Stability Mechanism, the EU’s permanent rescue fund, it will be prioritized above ordinary government bonds. As a result, Spain’s borrowing costs could rise further as investors fret both about the government’s solvency and about their place in the creditors’ priorities. There is good reason to fear that the second problem, the lack of confidence in the single currency, is going to get still worse. Today Greece goes to the polls again. If it elects a government determined to rip up the conditions of its bailout, it could be out of the euro soon. That would exacerbate concerns not only about Spain’s future, but also about Italy’s. The yields on Italian bonds shot up this week because of fears of contagion. The real source of uncertainty about the euro’s future is not what is happening in these countries, but rather the failure of Germany and its European partners to commit themselves to the level of integration needed to hold the single currency together. Country-by-country rescues will not be enough. Systemic reforms will be needed, including some mutualization of debts and a move toward a banking union, with euro-wide oversight and responsibility for banks. Spain’s bank rescue could have been a down payment on such a solution. By injecting their funds directly into Spain’s banks, European rescuers could have taken a first step toward a banking union. Instead they chose a mildly improved version of the old approach. It is a bandage, not a cure.
The focus of the G20 summit in Mexico next week will inevitably be the fate of the eurozone, and that will be true whatever the Greek electorate does or does not decide. For the problem has gone far beyond Greece. There has been a sudden deterioration in economic activity across the region in the past few weeks and that is starting to affect the rest of the world. One instance has been the sharp fall in UK exports to Europe in the latest figures, another the fall in internal trade within the eurozone itself. Unsurprisingly the non-eurozone countries at the summit will be pressing its leaders to do something, anything, to stop the eurozone undermining the rest of the world economy. In the short term, the central banks can and will step in to provide liquidity. The new lending programme of the Bank of England is one example of that. There is now a widespread expectation that the Federal Reserve will pump more funds into the US economy next week, while the European Central Bank will probably wait until the European summit at the end of the month to see what it can do to support whatever decisions are taken by the governments to support the eurozone in the longer term. And there lies the problem. Until eurozone leaders have a coherent plan that will enable the weaker countries to fund themselves at an acceptable rate, injections of liquidity from the central banks provide only the most temporary of relief. At the present interest rates, approaching 7 per cent for 10-year funds, neither the Spanish nor the Italian government can afford to borrow. They are running out of money. Spain has acknowledged that it cannot guarantee paying pensions after July, thereby tacitly admitting that its problem is not just one of recapitalising its banks: it needs a sovereign bailout too. Italy's situation is slightly less pressing, but its overall debt is larger, at some 120 per cent of GDP. Among the major nations, only Japan has higher debt and it has been able to rely on domestic savers to buy its bonds. By contrast, both Spain and Italy have to borrow from abroad. So what should we expect from the G20 meeting? Well, we have the full weight of the world's largest economic powers. They represent more than 80 per cent of global GDP. They have, when they act together, huge firepower. As past experience has shown, notably after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, they can stitch together a package that restores confidence and enables the world's business and financial communities to crank up trade and investment. In an emergency, they can be very effective. But what the G20 cannot do is tackle structural problems within a particular region. So it cannot fix the problems of the eurozone. Only Europe can do that. And within Europe, only Germany is both a large enough economy and a sufficiently credit-worthy nation to be able to think of assembling the finance necessary to enable the eurozone's weaker members to pay their bills.
The latest data from the Bank of England reveals that UK lenders are exposed to the tune of $142.5bn (£91.3bn) in both Italy and Spain, spelling potentially disastrous consequences for British banks should these European economies collapse. Of the total, British banks have $83.1bn tied up in Spain’s public and private sector, including its banking system, and a further $59.4bn exposure to Italy. UK banks are relatively insulated to the sovereign debt of the weakest European economies compared to other lenders in the eurozone, including those in Germany and France. But they remain highly vulnerable to private sector debt in Italy and Spain, the Bank said, and have significant money locked up in major European banking systems, resulting in “indirect” exposure to the public sector debt crisis. As at the end of December, the period for which the latest figures are available, UK banks exposure to Italy was $59.4bn. Of this, $44bn was private sector debt and just $8.4bn was sovereign debt.
Thursday, 7 June 2012
Bank of England policymakers meet today to decide whether to change interest rates or to pump in more money into the ailing economy, with leading economist saying they may opt to inject a further £50bn of stimulus.
Global capital markets, now the most powerful force on earth, are rapidly losing confidence in the financial coherence of the 17-nation euro zone. A market implosion there, like that triggered by Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008, may not be far off. Not only would that dismantle the euro zone, but it could also usher in another global economic slump: in effect, a second leg of the Great Recession, analogous to that of 1937. This risk is evident in the structure of global interest rates. At one level, U.S. Treasury bonds are now carrying the lowest yields in history, as gigantic sums of money seek a safe haven from this crisis. At another level, the weaker euro-zone countries, such as Spain and Italy, are paying stratospheric rates because investors are increasingly questioning their solvency. And there’s Greece, whose even higher rates signify its bankrupt condition. In addition, larger businesses and wealthy individuals are moving all of their cash and securities out of banks in these weakening countries. This undermines their financial systems. 423 Comments Weigh InCorrections? Personal Post The reason markets are battering the euro zone is that its hesitant leaders have not developed the tools for countering such pressures. The U.S. response to the 2008 credit market collapse is instructive. The Federal Reserve and Treasury took a series of huge and swift steps to avert a systemic meltdown. The Fed provided an astonishing $13 trillion of support for the credit system, including special facilities for money market funds, consumer finance, commercial paper and other sectors. Treasury implemented the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program, which infused equity into countless banks to stabilize them. The euro-zone leaders have discussed implementing comparable rescue capabilities. But, as yet, they have not fully designed or structured them. Why they haven’t done this is mystifying. They’d better go on with it right now. Europe has entered this danger zone because monetary union — covering 17 very different nations with a single currency — works only if fiscal union, banking union and economic policy union accompany it. Otherwise, differences among the member-states in competitiveness, budget deficits, national debt and banking soundness can cause severe financial imbalances. This was widely discussed when the monetary treaty was forged in 1992, but such further integration has not occurred. How can Europe pull back from this brink? It needs to immediately install a series of emergency financial tools to prevent an implosion; and put forward a detailed, public plan to achieve full integration within six to 12 months. The required crisis tools are three: ●First, a larger and instantly available sovereign rescue fund that could temporarily finance Spain, Italy or others if those nations lose access to financing markets. Right now, the proposed European Stability Mechanism is too small and not ready for deployment. ●Second, a central mechanism to insure all deposits in euro-zone banks. National governments should provide such insurance to their own depositors first. But backup insurance is necessary to prevent a disastrous bank run, which is a serious risk today. ●Third, a unit like TARP, capable of injecting equity into shaky banks and forcing them to recapitalize. These are the equivalent of bridge financing to buy time for reform. Permanent stability will come only from full union across the board. And markets will support the simple currency structure only if they see a true plan for promptly achieving this. The 17 member-states must jointly put one forward. Both the rescue tools and the full integration plan require Germany, Europe’s strongest country, to put its balance sheet squarely behind the euro zone. That is an unpopular idea in Germany today, which is why Chancellor Angela Merkel has been dragging her feet. But Germany will suffer a severe economic blow if this single-currency experiment fails. A restored German mark would soar in value, like the Swiss franc, and damage German exports and employment. The time for Germany and all euro-zone members to get the emergency measures in place and commit to full integration is now. Global capital markets may not give them another month. The world needs these leaders to step up.
Monday, 4 June 2012
A crime linked to Facebook is reported to police every 40 minutes. Last year, officers logged 12,300 alleged offences involving the vastly popular social networking site. Facebook was referenced in investigations of murder, rape, child sex offences, assault, kidnap, death threats, witness intimidation and fraud.
The Duke of Edinburgh has been taken to hospital with a bladder infection and will miss the rest of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Buckingham Palace said Prince Philip, 90, had been taken to the King Edward VII Hospital in London from Windsor Castle as a "precautionary measure". The Queen is still expected to join 12,000 others at the Jubilee concert which is under way at the palace. The prince will remain in hospital under observation for a few days. The prince had appeared to be in good health when he accompanied the Queen on Sunday on the royal barge the Spirit of Chartwell, which formed part of the rain-drenched Jubilee river pageant. He and the Queen stood for most of the 80-minute journey, as they were accompanied by 1,000 boats travelling seven miles down the river to Tower Bridge.
Luka Rocco Magnotta was arrested in Berlin Monday after a four-day international manhunt that spanned three countries. The 29-year-old Canadian wanted over a horrific Montreal ice pick murder and decapitation of a Chinese student that he allegedly filmed and posted to the Internet, was arrested in or near an Internet cafe, Berlin police said. Montreal police confirmed they are aware of the reports that Magnotta was arrested, but said they are still in the process of contacting their Berlin counterparts. The arrest comes after French authorities said they were investigating a tip that Magnotta travelled from Paris to Berlin via bus on the weekend. “Somebody recognized him and (then) all the police recognized him,” Berlin police spokesperson Stefan Redlich told CP24 Monday. Handout (Click to enlarge) Magnotta's alleged victim is Lin Jun, a 33-year-old Concordia University student from Wuhan, Hubei, China. He was last seen on May 24, police said, and reported missing on May 29. Redlich said police were called in by a civilian who spotted Magnotta and he was arrested after police asked for his identification at about 2:00 p.m. local time in Berlin. Reuters is reporting it was an employee of the cafe, Kadir Anlayisli, that recognized Magnotta. The cafe is on Karl Marx Strasse, a busy shopping street filled with Turkish and Lebanese shops and cafes in the Neukoelln district of Berlin. German television quoted the owner of the cafe saying Magnotta was surfing the Internet for about an hour before his arrest. Redlich said Magnotta has been taken into custody without incident and will go in front of a judge Tuesday. Canadian officials are expected to start the extradition process for Magnotta in the near future.
Thursday, 31 May 2012
US benchmark borrowing costs plunged to levels last seen in 1946 and those for Germany and the UK hit all-time lows as investors took fright at what they see as a disjointed policy response to the debt crisis in Spain and Italy. In a striking sign of the flight to haven assets, German two-year bond yields fell to zero for the first time, below the equivalent rate for Japan, meaning investors are willing to lend to Berlin for no return. US 10-year yields fell as low as 1.62 per cent, a level last reached in March 1946, according to Global Financial Data. German benchmark yields reached 1.26 per cent while Denmark's came close to breaching the 1 per cent level, hitting 1.09 per cent. UK rates fell to 1.64 per cent, the lowest since records for benchmark borrowing costs began in 1703. "They are extreme levels because we are in an extremely perilous situation. People just want to put their money somewhere where they think they will get it back. People may soon be paying Germany or the US to look after their money," said Gary Jenkins, head of Swordfish Research, an independent credit analysis company. The flight to safety came as the situation in Italy and Spain, the eurozone's third- and fourth-largest economies, deteriorated further. Italy held a disappointing debt auction and saw its benchmark borrowing costs rise above 6 per cent for the first time since January. The euro fell 0.8 per cent against the dollar to under $1.24 for the first time in two years. Confusion over how the Spanish government's rescue of Bankia, the stricken lender, will be structured led the premium Madrid pays over Berlin to borrow to hit fresh highs for the euro era at 540 basis points. Analysts said the elevated level meant that clearing houses could soon raise the amount of margin, or collateral, that traders need to post against Spanish debt, a move that led to the escalation of crises in Portugal and Ireland. The European Central Bank has made clear to Spain that it cannot use the bank's liquidity operations as part of a recapitalision of Bankia. However, the central bank said on Wednesday it had not been officially consulted on the plans. Equity markets globally fell on the eurozone fears with bourses in Paris, Frankfurt and London all dropping 2 per cent. But Nick Gartside, international chief investment officer for JPMorgan Asset Management, noted that while US bond yields had halved since April last year the S&P 500 equity market was at the same level. "One of those two markets is mispriced. Core government bonds are an efficient market and they are ahead," he added. Investors said borrowing costs for the US, UK and Germany were likely to continue to fall amid a worsening economic backdrop and the threat of more central bank intervention. Wealth managers have been moving client assets into currency havens in recent weeks, with the Swiss franc and the US dollar among the biggest beneficiaries "Risk aversion, a rapidly slowing global economy and unusually low policy rates will pin these short and intermediate maturity bonds at unprecedented low levels for quite a while," said Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of Pimco, one of the world's largest bond investors. Mr Gartside said he could easily see German rates going below 1 per cent, following a path that only Japan and Switzerland have taken among major economies, while the US and UK could dip under 1.5 per cent. Markets are increasingly resigned to more turmoil until policy makers take more radical action. The two most popular plans of action for investors are for the ECB to buy Spanish and Italian bonds in unlimited size or for eurozone countries to agree on a fiscal union involving the pooling of debt. "You have to throw everything at it. Spain is just too big for half measures. The next intervention has to be not just massive in size but it has to show a total commitment," said Mr Jenkins. He recommends that the ECB set targets either for the premium Spain and Italy pay to borrow over Germany or for their yields.
Property prices in the capital’s most sought-after postcodes have been driven up by investors moving funds out of assets held in euros to buy into what is seen as a “safe haven” alternative. Foreign money seeking a refuge from the wider economic turmoil accounted for 60pc of acquisitions of prime central London property between 2007 and 2011, according to a report by Fathom Consulting for Development Securities. If the shared currency broke up completely, London property would initially be boosted by the continued flight towards a safe haven, the report predicts. But, once the break-up had taken place, demand for these assets as an insurance against this event would start to ebb. “Although fears about a messy end to the euro debt crisis may account for much of the gain in prime central London (PCL) prices that has taken place over the past two years, we find that a break-up of the single currency area is also the single greatest threat to PCL,” said researchers.
Friday, 25 May 2012
The director of the Vatican Bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, has been removed from his post for dereliction of duty, the Vatican says. The bank's board of directors unanimously passed a no-confidence vote in Mr Gotti Tedeschi, a statement said. It said he had failed "to carry out duties of primary importance", but it did not elaborate. In 2010 Italian police launched an investigation against Mr Gotti Tedeschi as part of a money-laundering inquiry. Members of the board believed his dismissal was needed to "maintain the vitality of the bank", the Vatican statement said. The board will now look for a new director to restore relations with the international financial community, "based on mutual respect for accepted international banking standards". Mr Gotti Tedeschi declined to comment on his dismissal. He told journalists: "I'd rather say nothing, otherwise I'd say ugly things." Transparency But in remarks to the Reuters news agency, he said: "I have paid for my transparency." The moves comes as Moneyval, the Council of Europe body tasked with counteracting money laundering, prepares to rule at the beginning of July on whether the Vatican meets international standards on financial transactions. Memos leaked earlier this year suggest there are serious differences among Vatican officials over how far to go in ensuring financial transparency, according to media reports. The Vatican Bank, known officially as the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), was created during World War II to administer accounts held by religious orders, cardinals, bishops and priests. It lost £250m in a scandal involving the collapse of one of Italy's biggest private banks - the Banco Ambrosiano - in 1982, with which it had close ties. The Vatican Bank has been headed by Mr Gotti Tedeschi, 62, a trained economist, since 2009. When Mr Gotti Tedeschi was placed under investigation in 2010, the Vatican said it was "perplexed and astonished", and expressed full confidence in him. It said the matter was the result of a misunderstanding, and that none of its employees was involved in any wrongdoing. As part of the inquiry, Italian tax police seized 23m euros ($29m, £18.4m) that the Vatican Bank had tried to transfer from a small Italian bank called Credito Artigiano. A month later, the Vatican set up a new financial authority to combat money laundering and make its financial operations more transparent, ahead of an EU deadline. The move was aimed at winning inclusion in the European Commission's "white list" of states which comply with international standards against tax fraud and money-laundering.
Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Scotland Yard is investigating allegations that detectives working for its anti-corruption unit have been paid thousands of pounds by a firm of private investigators. A parliamentary inquiry was told today that invoices, also seen by the Guardian, purport to show how a firm of private investigators made payments in return for information about the Metropolitan police investigation into James Ibori, a notorious Nigerian fraudster. On Tuesday, the Commons home affairs select committee was told by a lawyer involved in the case that invoices showed about £20,000 of potential payments to police officers in what amounted to an undetected case of "apparent corruption right at the heart of Scotland Yard". In recent weeks, as the Guardian investigated the allegations, the Met has sought to discourage the paper from publishing details about the case. But , after MPs heard the evidence, the Met dropped its previous insistence that there was "evidence that casts doubt on the credibility" of the allegations. A police source with knowledge of the investigation, which has been ongoing since October, said developments over the last 24 hours had now led police to take the allegations more seriously. The case revolves around a private investigation firm called RISC Management. Five years ago the firm was hired to work for Ibori, a former Nigerian state governor, after he discovered he was being investigated by the Met for serious fraud. Ibori recently pleaded guilty to money laundering and was jailed in the UK, after the conclusion of a major investigation into his financial affairs. The allegation now being investigated by police is that some detectives on the Met's Proceeds of Corruption Unit, which investigated Ibori, were receiving payments in exchange for information about the ongoing investigation. Invoices and other documents appearing to support the allegations have been anonymously posted to the Met and Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). The documents have also been seen by the Guardian and separately sent to the home affairs committee, which is conducting an inquiry in whether private investigators should be subject to statutory regulation. Keith Vaz, the chair of the committee, has said there is growing concern in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that some private investigators are operating in "the shadows" of the law. The Commons inquiry has been scrutinising the nexus between private investigators - many of whom are retired police officers - and their former colleagues who are still serving. On Tuesday morning, Mike Schwarz, a lawyer who represents one of Ibori's co-accused, told the inquiry about what he understood to be the significance of the material. He said it indicated possible corruption at the heart of the police investigation into the Nigerian politician's money laundering activities. The invoices are alleged to be from RISC Management to Speechly Bircham, a top firm of lawyers hired by Ibori to prepare his defence. Schwarz told MPs the invoices "perhaps" documented "payments made by RISC Management to sources, presumably police officers or those close to the investigation". He added: "The records, which I think the committee have, show about half-a-dozen payments totalling about £20,000 over a period of eight or nine months [...] it appears to be inappropriate if not corrupt." Schwarz told the committee that he believed RISC Management had been hired to "extract" information from the police investigation into Ibori. He said he had also seen emails - which he believed had also been forwarded to the committee - which confirmed "contact" between detectives investigating Ibori and the private investigators. Schwarz, from Bindmans solicitors, represents Bhadresh Gohil, a London-based solicitor jailed along with Ibori for orchestrating his money laundering scam. Gohil is now considering an appeal. Gohil is understood to have been sent the invoices, anonymously, while in Wandsworth Prison last summer. In a statement, the Met said: "The [force] is investigating an allegation that illegal payments were made to police officers for information by a private investigation agency. The Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in October 2011 which agreed to supervise a DPS investigation into the allegations." Following Schwarz's evidence to parliament, the Met said it had dropped its previous claim to have recently "uncovered evidence" casting doubt on the allegations. Previously, the force had suggested an active line of inquiry was the theory that Gohil or his associates had fabricated the allegations to undermine the prosecution. In a previous statement, provided on Friday, the force said: "As a result of inquiries police have uncovered evidence that casts doubt on the credibility of these allegations. Warrants have been executed at two addresses in London and a quantity of paperwork and computer equipment recovered." Two weeks ago, following raids on properties, one of which was the Gohil's family home in Kent, the force said: "Officers believe that they have identified the originator of the information and a line of enquiry suggests that there may have been an attempt to pervert the course of justice." However, sources at the Yard said previous statements no longer fully represented their position. A source with knowledge of the Met inquiry said the change of stance was unrelated to Schwarz's parliamentary evidence. The source said that, instead, there had been developments in the investigation over the last 24 hours. Schwarz named three serving Met police officers in his testimony to parliament as being potential "culprits": detective inspector Gary Walters, detective constables named as John MacDonald and "Clark". All three officers declined an opportunity to respond to the allegations when contacted by the Guardian last week. However, RISC Management indicated Walters would deny "any and all allegations". RISC Management denied all the allegations about the company, saying it was not aware of the Scotland Yard investigation and had no knowledge of the alleged financial records. The firm confirmed it had been hired by Ibori's lawyers but denied making corrupt payments, saying it "has never paid a serving police officer for information and would never approve such payments". Keith Hunter, chief executive of the company, said: "RISC management does not need to pay serving police officers for confidential information as we pride ourselves on our ability to provide positive solutions and accurate information legitimately. RISC Management has a highly respected reputation for conducting professional investigations". He added that his company was "proud to have a network of highly professional consultants, contacts and resources. These individuals are hired precisely because of their unique skill set and expertise". He accused Schwarz of "grandstanding" in front of the Commons committee, instead of taking the "correct course of reporting the matter to the police". He said Schwarz had not produced any evidence to support his claims and acted for a convicted solicitor, Gohil, who was jailed for seven years for money laundering. Speechly Bircham denied any knowledge of wrongdoing and said it would be willing to assist with any police inquiries. The law firm stressed Schwarz did not suggest in his evidence to parliament that Speechly Bircham was "party to illegal or corrupt payments" and said any such allegation would be false and defamatory. Ian Timlin, the former Speechly Bircham lawyer who was at the time representing Ibori, said neither he nor the firm had "any knowledge of any payments to police officers for information." He added: "At no time, did RISC ever inform me who or what was the source/s they were paying."
Sunday, 20 May 2012
Three people have been killed in a 5.9-magnitude earthquake that struck northern Italy near Bologna, according to reports. The quake that struck at just after 4am local time was centred 21.75 miles north-northwest of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of six miles, the US Geological Survey said. Italian news agency Ansa, citing emergency services, said two people were killed in Sant'Agostino di Ferrara when a ceramics factory collapsed. Another person was killed in Ponte Rodoni do Bondeno. In late January, A 5.4-magnitude quake shook northern Italy. Some office buildings in Milan were evacuated as a precaution and there were scattered reports of falling masonry and cracks in buildings. The tremor was one of the strongest to shake the region, seismologists said. Initial television footage indicated that older buildings had suffered damage. Roofs collapsed, church towers showed cracks and the bricks of some stone walls tumbled into the street during the quake. As dawn broke over the region, residents milled about the streets inspecting the damage. Italy's Sky TG24 showed images of the collapsed ceramics factory in Sant'Agostino di Ferrara where the two workers were reportedly killed. The structure, which appeared to be a hangar of sorts, had twisted metal supports jutting out at odd angles amid the mangled collapsed roof. The quake “was a strong one, and it lasted quite a long time”, said Emilio Bianco, receptionist at Modena's Canalgrande hotel, housed in an ornate 18th century palazzo. The hotel suffered no damage and Modena itself was spared, but guests spilled into the streets as soon as the quake hit, he said. Many people were still awake in the town since it was a “white night”, with shops and restaurants open all night. Museums were supposed to have remained open as well but closed following the bombing of a school in southern Italy that killed one person. The quake epicentre was between the towns of Finale Emilia, San Felice sul Panaro and Sermide, but was felt as far away as Tuscany and northern Alto Adige. The initial quake was followed about an hour later by a 5.1-magnitude aftershock, USGS said. And it was preceded by a 4.1-magnitude tremor. In late January, a 5.4-magnitude quake shook northern Italy. Some office buildings in Milan were evacuated as a precaution and there were scattered reports of falling masonry and cracks in buildings. In 2009, a devastating tremor killed more than 300 people in the central city of L'Aquila.
Thursday, 17 May 2012
Spain’s banking crisis reached Britain’s high streets last night when the credit rating of Santander UK was cut.
In a sweeping reassessment, ratings agency Moody’s announced in Madrid that it is downgrading 16 Spanish banks because it could not be sure of the ability of the country’s government to provide the necessary support.
Santander UK was among the banks highlighted after the ratings agency took aim at its parent Banco Santander, based in Spain.
The Spanish banking crisis has hit the British high street, with the news that Santander has had its credit rating cut
Santander is one of the biggest players in UK retail banking, having taken over the former Abbey National, Alliance & Leicester, Bradford & Bingley and most recently the English branches of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
The new lower A2 credit rating is certain to be a cause of anxiety to Santander UK’s millions of British customers.
Nevertheless, they can be confident that their deposits up to £85,000 are guaranteed by the British government should there be a loss of confidence.
The 63-year-old singer, who had hits including Hot Stuff, Love to Love You, Baby and I Feel Love, died in Florida on Thursday morning. She had largely kept her battle with lung cancer out of the public eye. But the website TMZ reported that the singer had told friends she believed her illness was the result of inhaling toxic dust from the collapsed Twin Towers. On Thursday night tributes were paid to the singer, considered by many to be the voice of the 1970s. A statement released on behalf of her family — husband Bruce Sudano, their daughters Brooklyn and Amanda, her daughter, Mimi from a previous marriage and four grandchildren — read: “Early this morning, surrounded by family, we lost Donna Summer Sudano, a woman of many gifts, the greatest being her faith. "While we grieve her passing, we are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy.
Investigators are questioning Mexico's former deputy defence minister and a top army general for suspected links to organised crime
Investigators are questioning Mexico's former deputy defence minister and a top army general for suspected links to organised crime, in the highest level scandal to hit the military in the five-year-old drug war.
Mexican soldiers on Tuesday detained retired general Tomás Angeles Dauahare and general Roberto Dawe González and turned them over to the country's organised crime unit, military and government officials said.
Angeles Dauahare was number 2 in the armed forces under President Felipe Calderón and helped lead the government's crackdown on drug cartels after soldiers were deployed to the streets in late 2006. He retired in 2008.
Dawe González, still an active duty general, led an elite army unit in the western state of Colima and local media said he previously held posts in the violent states of Sinaloa and Chihuahua.
An official at the attorney general's office said they would be held for several days to give testimony and then could be called in front of a judge.
"The generals are answering questions because they are allegedly tied to organised crime," the official said.
Angeles Dauahare said through a lawyer that his detention was unjustified, daily Reforma newspaper reported.
If the generals were convicted of drug trafficking, it would mark the most serious case of military corruption during Calderón's administration.
"Traditionally the armed forces had a side role in the anti-drug fight, eradicating drug crops or stopping drug shipments," said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst who formerly worked in the government intelligence agency.
"After 2006, they were more directly involved in public security, putting them at a higher risk of contact [with drug gangs]," he said.
About 55,000 people have been killed in drug violence over the past five years as rival cartels fight each other and government forces.
Worsening drug-related attacks in major cities are eroding support for Calderón's conservative National Action Party, or PAN, ahead of a 1 July presidential vote.
Over the weekend, police found 49 headless bodies on a highway in northern Mexico, the latest in a recent series of brutal massacres where mutilated corpses have been hung from bridges or shoved in iceboxes.
Opinion polls show Calderón's party is trailing by double digits behind opposition candidate Enrique Peña Nieto from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which says the government's drug strategy is failing.
Traditionally, the military has been seen as less susceptible to cartel bribes and intimidation than badly paid local and state police forces, who are often easily swayed by drug gang pay offs.
But there have been cases of military corruption in the past. Angeles Dauahare himself oversaw the landmark trial of two generals convicted of working with drug gangs in 2002.
Those two generals were convicted of links to the Juárez cartel once headed by the late Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who was known as the Lord of the Skies for flying plane load of cocaine into the United States.
Since then, the Sinaloa cartel - headed by Mexico's most wanted man Joaquín "Shorty" Guzmán - has expanded its power and is locked in a bloody battle over smuggling routes with the Zetas gang, founded by deserters from the Mexican army.
Wednesday, 16 May 2012
The trading losses suffered by JPMorgan Chase have surged in recent days, surpassing the bank’s initial $2 billion estimate by at least $1 billion, according to people with knowledge of the losses. When Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, announced the losses last Thursday, he indicated they could double within the next few quarters. But that process has been compressed into four trading days as hedge funds and other investors take advantage of JPMorgan’s distress, fueling faster deterioration in the underlying credit market positions held by the bank. A spokeswoman for the bank declined to comment, although Mr. Dimon has said the total paper trading losses will be volatile depending on day-to-day market fluctuations. The Federal Reserve is examining the scope of the growing losses and the original bet, along with whether JPMorgan’s chief investment office took risks that were inappropriate for a federally insured depository institution, according to several people with knowledge of the examination. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is still under way. The overall health of the bank remains strong, even with the additional losses, and JPMorgan has been able to increase its stock dividend faster than its rivals because of stronger earnings and a more solid capital buffer. Still, the huge trading losses rocked Wall Street and reignited the debate over how tightly giant financial institutions should be regulated. Bank analysts say that while the bank’s stability is not threatened, if the losses continue to mount, the outlook for the bank’s dividend will grow uncertain. The bank’s leadership has discussed the impact of the losses on future earnings, although a dividend cut remains highly unlikely for now. In March, the company raised the quarterly dividend by 5 cents, to 30 cents, which will cost the bank about $190 million more this quarter. A spokeswoman for the bank said a dividend cut has not been discussed internally. At the bank’s annual meeting in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Mr. Dimon did not definitively rule out cutting the dividend, although he said that he “hoped” it would not be cut. John Lackey, a shareholder from Richmond, Va., who attended the meeting precisely to ask about the dividend, was not reassured. “That wasn’t a very clear answer,” he said of Mr. Dimon’s response. “I expect that shareholders are going to suffer because of this.” Analysts expect the bank to earn $4 billion in the second quarter, factoring in the original estimated loss of $2 billion. Even if the additional trading losses were to double, the bank could still earn a profit of $2 billion. And many analysts and investors remain optimistic about the bank’s long-term prospects. Glenn Schorr, a widely followed analyst with Nomura, reiterated on Wednesday his buy rating on JPMorgan shares, which are down more than 10 percent since the trading loss became public last week. What’s more, the chief investment office earned more than $5 billion in the last three years, which leaves it ahead over all, even given the added red ink. But the underlying problem is that while these sharp swings are expected at a big hedge fund, they should not be occurring at a bank whose deposits are government-backed and which has access to ultralow cost capital from the Federal Reserve, experts said. “JPMorgan Chase has a big hedge fund inside a commercial bank,” said Mark Williams, a professor of finance at Boston University, who also served as a Federal Reserve bank examiner. “They should be taking in deposits and making loans, not taking large speculative bets.” Not long after Mr. Dimon’s announcement of a dividend increase in March, the notorious bet by JPMorgan’s chief investment office began to fall apart. Traders at the unit’s London desk and elsewhere are now frantically trying to defuse the huge bet that was built up over years, but started generating erratic returns in late March. After a brief pause, the losses began to mount again in late April, prompting Mr. Dimon’s announcement on May 10. Beginning on Friday, the same trends that had been causing the losses for six weeks accelerated, since traders on the opposite side of the bet knew the bank was under pressure to unwind the losing trade and could not double down in any way. Another issue is that the trader who executed the complex wager, Bruno Iksil, is no longer on the trading desk. Nicknamed the London Whale, Mr. Iksil had a firm grasp on the trade — knowledge that is hard to replace, even though his anticipated departure is seen as sign of the bank’s taking responsibility for the debacle. “They were caught short,” said one experienced credit trader who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the situation is still fluid. The market player, who does not stand to gain from JPMorgan’s losses and is not involved in the trade, added, “this is a very hard trade to get out of because it’s so big.” He estimated that the initial loss of just over $2 billion was caused by a move of a quarter percentage point, or 25 basis points, on a portfolio with a notional value of $150 billion to $200 billion — in other words, the total value of the contracts traded, not JPMorgan’s exposure. In the four trading days since Mr. Dimon’s disclosure, the market has moved at least 15 to 20 basis points more against JPMorgan, he said. The overall losses are not directly proportional to the move in basis points because of the complexity of the trade. Many of the positions are highly illiquid, making them difficult to value for regulators and the bank itself. In its simplest form, traders said, the complex position assembled by the bank included a bullish bet on an index of investment-grade corporate debt, later paired with a bearish bet on high-yield securities, achieved by selling insurance contracts known as credit-default swaps. A big move in the interest rate spread between the investment grade securities and risk-free government bonds in recent months hurt the first part of the bet, and was not offset by equally large moves in the price of the insurance on the high yield bonds. As the credit yield curve steepened, the losses piled up on the corporate grade index, overwhelming gains elsewhere on the trades. Making matters worse, there was a mismatch between the expiration of different instruments within the trade, increasing losses. The additional losses represent a worsening of what is already the most embarrassing misstep for JPMorgan since Mr. Dimon became chief executive in 2005. No one has blamed Mr. Dimon for the trade, which was under the oversight of the head of the chief investment office, Ina Drew, but he has repeatedly apologized, calling it “stupid” and “sloppy.” Ms. Drew resigned Monday and more departures are anticipated.
Friday, 4 May 2012
Greek far-right parties could end up with as much as 20 percent of the vote in Sunday's elections. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has intensified the xenophobic atmosphere in the country.
At night, the streets leading to Omonoia Square are empty. That wasn't always the case. The area was the premier multicultural neighborhood of Athens and one of the first quarters to be gentrified. Jazz bars and Indian restaurants lined the streets, separated by the occasional rooms-by-the-hour hotel. It was a quarter full of immigrants, drug addicts and African prostitutes, but also of journalists, ambitious young artists and teenagers from private schools. Today, the immigrants stay home once night falls. They are afraid of groups belonging to the "angry citizens," a kind of militia that beats up foreigners and claims to help the elderly withdraw money from cash machines without being robbed. Such groups are the product of an initiative started by the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgi -- Golden Dawn -- the party which has perpetrated pogroms in Agios Panteleimon, another Athens neighborhood with a large immigrant population. There are now three outwardly xenophobic parties in Greece. According to recent surveys, together they could garner up to 20 percent of the vote in elections on Sunday: the anti-Semitic party LAOS stands to win 4 percent; the nationalist party Independent Greeks -- a splinter group of the conservative Nea Dimokratia party -- is forecast to win 11 percent; and the right extremists of Golden Dawn could end up with between 5 and 7 percent. My name is Xenia, the hospitable. Greece itself should really be called Xenia: Tourism, emigration and immigration are important elements of our history. But hospitality is no longer a priority in our country, a fact which the ugly presence of Golden Dawn makes clear. A Personal Attack Shaved heads, military uniforms, Nazi chants, Hitler greetings: How should a Greek journalist deal with such people? Should one just ignore them and leave them unmentioned? Should one denounce them and demand that they be banned? One shouldn't forget that they are violent and have perpetrated several attacks against foreigners and leftists. I thought long and hard about how to write about Golden Dawn so that my article was in no way beneficial to the party. On April 12, the daily Kathimerini ran my story under the headline "Banality of Evil." In the piece, I carefully explained why it was impossible to carry on a dialogue with such people and why I thought the neo-Nazi party should disappear from media coverage and be banned. Five days later, an anonymous reply to my article appeared on the Golden Dawn website. It was a 2,500-word-long personal attack in which the fascists recounted my entire career, mocked my alleged foreign roots (I was born in Hamburg) and even, for no apparent reason, mentioned my 13-year-old daughter. The unnamed authors indirectly threatened me as well: "To put it in the mother tongue of foreign Xenia: 'Kommt Zeit, kommt Rat, kommt Attentat!'" In other words, watch your back. Most Greeks believe that Golden Dawn has connections to both the police and to the country's secret service. Nevertheless, I went to the authorities to ask what I should do. I was told that I should be careful. They told me that party thugs could harass me, beat me or terrorize me over the phone. It would be better, they said, if I stopped writing about them. If I wished to react to the threats, they suggested I file a complaint against Golden Dawn's service provider. That, however, would be difficult given that the domain is based somewhere in the United States. Like Weimar Germany A friend told me that I should avoid wearing headphones on the street so that I can hear what is going on around me. My daughter now has nightmares about being confronted by members of Golden Dawn. Three of her classmates belong to the party. The three boys have posted pictures of party events on their Facebook pages. For their profile image, they have chosen the ancient Greek Meandros symbol, which, in the red-on-black manifestation used by Golden Dawn, resembles a swastika. The group's slogans include "Foreigners Out!" and "The Garbage Should Leave the Country!" The fact that immigration has become such an issue in the worst year of the ongoing economic crisis in the country can be blamed on the two parties in government. The Socialist PASOK and the conservative Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy, or ND) are running xenophobic campaigns. ND has said it intends to repeal a law which grants Greek citizenship to children born in Greece to immigrant parents. And cabinet member Michalis Chrysochoidis, of PASOK, has announced "clean up operations" whereby illegal immigrants are to be rounded up in encampments and then deported. When he recently took a stroll through the center of Athens to collect accolades for his commitment to the cause, some called out to him: "Golden Dawn has cleaned up Athens!" Yet, Chrysochoidis is the best loved PASOK politician in his Athens district, in part because of his xenophobic sentiments. His party comrade, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos, is just as popular. Loverdos has warned Greek men not to sleep with foreign prostitutes for fear of contracting HIV and thus endangering the Greek family. High unemployment of roughly 22 percent, a lack of hope, a tendency toward violence and the search for scapegoats: Analyses in the Greek press compare today's Greece with Germany at the end of the Weimar Republic. "We didn't know," said many Germans when confronted with the truth of the Holocaust after Nazi rule came to an end. After elections on May 6, no Greeks should be able to make the same claim.
Thursday, 3 May 2012
Reality TV is, at its core, about letting viewers revel in the bad decision-making of others: those who speak without thinking, who backstab, who have sex without condoms, who cheat. Frustratingly, though, reality shows—to which I am unapologetically addicted—tend to reward bad behavior, by giving its villains notoriety, spinoffs, opportunities to endorse weight-loss products, a nice sideline in paid interviews with supermarket tabloids, and other D-list rewards.
Locked Up Abroad is different. The National Geographic show, the sixth season of which premiered last week, gives its stars something they wouldn’t get on other reality shows: their comeuppance.
Having debuted in the U.K. (under the title Banged Up Abroad), Locked Up Abroad showcases one person (sometimes a couple) who ends up in prison overseas. Participants fit into one of two categories. The first group are the (largely) innocent: the married missionary couple who were kidnapped in the Philippines by the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf, for instance, or the seemingly goodhearted duo who wanted to help children in Chechnya, but ended up held hostage. These tales of the altruistic and naive can be difficult to watch.
But then there are those who rather deserve what happens to them. Typically these are drug smugglers, and their episodes follow a familiar arc. A young person—they’re almost always young—is bored or in need of cash (usually both). She is desperate or feels invincible (usually both). Someone approaches her and offers a seemingly great deal: an all-expenses-paid, luxurious overseas trip in exchange for a small favor. Sometimes the would-be employer is upfront and admits he needs a drug mule, but downplays the risk; other times, he hints at harmless-sounding illegalities, like bringing back legal goods to beat the export tax. In a few cases, the cover story is painfully thin: Come with me to check out this cool new nail polish technology only available in Thailand, for example. (That woman was in a vulnerable place: She had just been released on bail after killing her partner’s former husband—in self-defense, she claimed.)
The drug smugglers are caught, of course, usually at the airport, and brought to prison. And while a few episodes have taken place in developed countries—Spain, Japan, South Korea—the majority of our anti-heroes end up incarcerated in places with some of the dirtiest and most dangerous penitentiaries in the world.
Take last week’s episode, “From Hollywood to Hell.” (And pardon my spoilers, but this installment is too good not to describe in detail.) In 2001, actor Erik Aude was living the marginal Hollywood dream. An ür-bro, he had played bit parts in Dude, Where’s My Car?(credited as “Musclehead”) and 7th Heaven (“Boyfriend”) when a gym buddy asked him to go to Turkey to bring back “leather goods.” Aude makes the trip, and though a drug-sniffing dog alerts authorities at the Turkish airport, they find nothing—so Aude feels sure the whole thing is legit. He even recommends that one of his brothers start couriering for his friend. Then, when his brother backs out of a planned trip to Pakistan in 2002, Aude steps in, and shit gets real.
It is difficult to feel sorry for Aude. After his escort dumps him in an Islamabad hotel and warns him not to leave because the area is unsafe for Americans, he doesn’t head to the embassy or the airport. Instead, he goes jogging—and even tries to flirt with girls in headscarves on the street (with disastrous results). And when he is taken to the airport with just one suitcase, he is (he claims) not the least bit suspicious that he might be a drug mule. When a customs official asks him whether his trip was for business or pleasure, he cheeses, “Pleasure is my business.”
Aude’s episode is mind-bogglingly watchable, not least because he—of course!—plays himself in the re-enactment. In his telling, he was a virtual action star: On at least three occasions, he single-handedly fights back dozens of Pakistanis. After he takes out a prison bully, he is hailed a hero. He rejects a reduced sentence because it would require him to plead guilty—and his pride is more valuable than his freedom, he says.
Aside from those truly in the wrong place at the wrong time, the most sympathetic characters of Locked Up Abroad may be the embassy employees called in to assist the suspected smugglers. Inevitably, Locked Up Abroad participants are horrified that the embassies of their homelands—usually English-speaking countries like the U.S., the U.K., or Australia—can’t do more for them. I can just imagine U.S. Embassy workers calling “not it” every time they get word from local authorities about some young American knucklehead who thought he could sneak past security with a bag full of cocaine.
Tonight’s episode is called “The Juggler Smuggler,” and its “hero” is Mark Greening, a “party-loving” drug-runner who knows his latest trip is “doomed” when he doesn’t get his fortune told by “his favorite Gypsy woman.” I can’t wait.
Low fare carrier bmibaby is set to close later this year, threatening the loss of hundreds of jobs and the ending of its flights. The carrier transferred to International Airlines Group, the owners of British Airways, last month, but consultations have now started with unions about its closure in September. The GMB union said it was "devastating" news, especially for the East Midlands, where hundreds of jobs are now threatened with the axe. With bmi Regional, bmibaby transferred to International Airlines Group ownership on completion of the purchase from Lufthansa. IAG has consistently said that bmibaby and bmi Regional are not part of its long-term plans. A statement said: "Progress has been made with a potential buyer for bmi Regional, but so far this has not been possible for bmibaby, despite attempts over many months by both Lufthansa and IAG. Bmibaby has therefore started consultation to look at future options including, subject to that consultation, a proposal to close in September this year." Peter Simpson, bmi interim managing director, said: "We recognise that these are unsettling times for bmibaby employees, who have worked tirelessly during a long period of uncertainty. Bmibaby has delivered high levels of operational performance and customer service, but has continued to struggle financially, losing more than £100 million in the last four years. In the consultation process, we will need to be realistic about our options. "To help stem losses as quickly as possible and as a preliminary measure, we will be making reductions to bmibaby's flying programme from June. We sincerely apologise to all customers affected and will be providing full refunds and doing all we can with other airlines to mitigate the impact of these changes." Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the pilots' union Balpa, said: "This is bad news for jobs. Bmibaby pilots are disappointed and frustrated that, even though there appears to be potential buyers, we are prevented from speaking with them to explore how we can contribute to developing a successful business plan. "The frustration has now turned to anger following the news that Flybe (which is part owned by BA) has moved onto many of these bmibaby routes without any opportunity for staff to look at options and alternatives. Balpa's priority is to protect jobs; and we will use whatever means we can to do so." The changes mean that all bmibaby flights to and from Belfast will cease from June 11, although this will not affect bmi mainline's services to London Heathrow. Bmibaby services from East Midlands to Amsterdam, Paris, Geneva, Nice, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newquay, and from Birmingham to Knock and Amsterdam, will end on the same date.
Thursday, 26 April 2012
Greece should not have joined the euro, a former head of the German central bank, who was central to eurozone policymaking at the time, has said. But Ernst Welteke, who was Bundesbank president from 1999-2004, told the BBC that none of the eurozone's problems would be solved if Greece left. He added there should be greater transfer of wealth from richer parts of the eurozone to poorer parts. He said he was confident measures were in place to ensure the euro's survival. "The euro is not in as big a danger as is often recorded," Mr Welteke told Business Daily on the BBC's World Service. "The euro has been stable [for] 10 years, inside and outside the European Monetary Union (EMU)."
Meet Amun 3554. Doesn’t look like much, right? Little more than a mile wide, it’s one of the smallest M-class (metal-bearing) asteroids yet discovered. Unless it ever decides to smash into us — a theoretical possibility, but extremely unlikely over the next few centuries — it will continue orbiting the sun, unknown and unmolested.
That is, unless Planetary Resources has its way. Planetary Resources is the asteroid-mining company launched Tuesday in Seattle, with backing from Microsoft and Google billionaires, along with the equally prominent James Cameron and Ross Perot Jr.
Its object is to completely dismember poor little rocks like Amun.
That’s because Amun is a goldmine — well, not gold so much. But it does contain a cool $8 trillion worth of platinum, an essential precious metal used in everything from jewelry to fuel cells to computers (and one that’s currently trading at the same rate as gold — $1500 an ounce.) On Earth, only a few hundred tonnes of the stuff are produced every year.
The $8 trillion figure is an estimate based on observations by John S. Lewis, professor of planetary science, author of Mining the Sky: Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets, and Planets, and now a consultant to Planetary Resources. He also found 3554 Amun to contain another $8 trillion in iron and nickel, and a mere $6 trillion worth of cobalt.
So, the total payout from one unassuming asteroid? $20,000,000,000,000.
That’s what got Planetary Resources co-founder Peter Diamandis so excited. “There are $20 trillion checks up there waiting to be cashed,” he enthused at a space development conference in 2006.
Trillions and Trillions
And 3554 Amun is hardly alone; it’s just one of the few asteroids that has been submitted to rigorous chemical analysis. Another mile-wide Near-Earth Asteroid, known as 1986 DA, is said to contain 100,000 tonnes of platinum and 10,000 tonnes of gold. That’s worth another couple of trillion. Not too shabby.
How many of these mile-wide metal paydays are up there? We have only a vague idea. Nearly 9,000 Near-Earth Asteroids have been discovered so far. Planetary Resources’ best guess is that represents just 1% of the total.
That’s why the company is focusing its efforts on launching space telescopes first; they’ll do the prospecting, then report back on the lowest-hanging fruit. It’s not inconceivable that Amun could be worth pennies compared to its compadres. Then the asteroid retrieval and mining process — all done by robotic spacecraft — can begin in earnest.
Beating Apple with Ease?
To become the wealthiest company in the world, Planetary Resources need only capture one rock. Less than that, in fact.
Apple, currently the world’s most valuable company, has a market cap of $500 billion. To match that in resources, let alone market cap, Planetary Resources need only mine one-fortieth of 3554 Amun.
Of course, there’s a catch. You couldn’t offload all those metals on the world market at once, for fear of crashing their prices. But the company would still own that much in equity, which would allow them to borrow against it. They would be that wealthy, to all intents and purposes. That’s just how capitalism works.
Still, for all this wealth, platinum and gold may not be the most important thing the asteroid miners are hunting. The water on some ice-bound asteroids could count for more in the long run. Not only does it make the existence of life in space that much easier, but it can also be broken down into the perfect rocket fuels: hydrogen and oxygen.
The more Planetary Resources starts a gold rush, the more important water in space becomes. No wonder the company is already talking about building a chain of orbital and space-bound refueling stations. Ice from asteroids and comets could be the next oil industry.
Check out these interviews with the Planetary Resources team, and let us know in the comments: have they got what it takes to make it?
Sunday, 22 April 2012
British police are still trying to trace £18m allegedly stolen by the Liberal Democrats' fugitive donor Michael Brown, who is expected to be extradited to Britain within the next 10 days. Brown, 46, was in a holding cell near Madrid airport on Sunday, having been deported from the Dominican Republic, where he had been on the run from UK authorities for three years. Brown, who gave £2.4m to the Liberal Democrats before the 2005 general election, is not expected to challenge a formal move to extradite him to London which has already been set in motion. He was convicted of theft and false accounting in his absence in Britain in 2008 and sentenced to seven years in jail. Detectives are still trying to trace around £18m of Brown's stolen money, which had been moved between his accounts in the US, Britain and Switzerland, the Guardian understands. Brown was estimated to have stolen more than £60m in a number of frauds. Most of his assets have been accounted for in property deals, a Bentley, a yacht and the private jet once used to fly senior Lib Dems across the UK. However, more than £18m has not yet been accounted for. "The file at Interpol on Brown and his associates remains open," a source told the Guardian. Brown's return will be another embarrassing development in the long-running saga over the Lib Dems' biggest single donation. The party has refused to compensate any of Brown's victims, claiming it received the money in good faith and spent it on the 2005 election campaign. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg welcomed Brown's return to Britain but said on Sunday that the party would not be returning his donation because the Electoral Commission had concluded the money had been received in good faith. The deputy prime minister, who pointed out that the donation was made before he was elected to Westminster, told BBC1's Sunday Politics: "I'm very pleased he's coming back to serve his sentence. This is a convicted fraudster. "I should stress that this is something which happened as far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned before I was even an MP, yet alone leader of the Liberal Democrats. What I've been told is that the Electoral Commission in 2009 looked at this exhaustively – as far as the receipt of that money by the Liberal Democrats from one of his companies. They categorically concluded that the money was received in good faith and all the controls, all the checks that should have been made were reasonably made by the Liberal Democrats at the time. If we'd been shown wanting on those accounts then of course we should pay the money back." But Brown's return will increase focus on the Electoral Commission inquiry into Brown's donations. The inquiry failed to call the Lib Dems' former treasurer, Reg Clark, who resigned over Brown in 2005 and warned advisers to the former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy that Brown should be treated with extreme caution. One of Brown's victims said the Lib Dems should return the money. Tony Brown, managing partner at law firm Bivonas which represents US attorney Robert Mann who lost more than $5m (£3m), said Brown may be asked to give evidence as part of his client's claim against the Lib Dems. "The Lib Dems have refused to repay this money to our client even though they know that this is the proceeds of crime. The Electoral Commission has failed to investigate this properly in our view. So now that Brown is returning to the jurisdiction, we can investigate again and establish the basis on which the Lib Dems received this money." Brown is expected to appear before a Spanish court to confirm his name and will then appear before an extradition hearing within 10 days. City of London police, who first uncovered Brown's fraud, confirmed his deportation. Detective Superintendent Bob Wishart said: "We hope that him facing justice will bring some closure to the victims who suffered as a result of his frauds." A close friend of Brown's told the Guardian on Sunday that he had arrived in Spain on Saturday after "volunteering" for deportation from the Dominican Republic, where he has been hiding for three years under the name of Darren Nally. "He asked to return to Britain. He is going home to face the music," the friend said. Brown appeared to come from nowhere when the party was paid £2.4m in the runup to the 2005 election from his company 5th Avenue Partners. A fast-talking and brash Glaswegian, he had walked into the party's then headquarters in Cowley Street and offered it money. He was not registered to vote, had no interest in politics and had never been a party member, but said he was giving the money to create an even playing field. Brown wined and dined with Charles Kennedy and other party grandees, and used his private jet to fly Kennedy across the country during the election campaign. Former Lib Dem insiders say he dazzled them with stories of Gordonstoun public school, St Andrews University and his connections with royalty and the US government. The truth was that he had attended his local school and completed a City and Guilds in catering at Glasgow College of Food Technology. He had no US government links – although he was wanted in Florida for cheque fraud. He was arrested in late 2005 after four former clients said he had duped them out of more than £40m in a high-yield fraud. His victims included Martin Edwards, the former Manchester United chairman, who had invested £8m with 5th Avenue Partners. The court would later be told that 5th Avenue Partners was wholly fraudulent and Brown had given money to the Lib Dems to give himself an air of respectability while duping his victims. The party had been used as part of his cover story, a judge said. In June 2008, while awaiting trial, Brown fled and a warrant was issued for his arrest. In the weeks before he disappeared, from his Hampstead bail address in north London, he changed his name on the electoral roll to Campbell-Brown and allowed his hair to turn grey. He travelled to the Dominican Republic where he enjoyed a millionaire's lifestyle while on the run. He lived in gated communities yards from some of the most pristine beaches in the Caribbean, drove a series of 4x4 vehicles and was a regular at exclusive golf courses. In Punta Cana, an exclusive resort on the eastern tip of the island, he could often be seen walking his dog – named Charles, after the former Lib Dem leader. He was arrested in Punta Cana in January on unrelated fraud allegations.
Donaldson enjoyed a lavish lifestyle in Marbella and Tenerife, trafficking accused found hiding in loft with £70k in cash
A SUSPECTED drug trafficker was found by police hiding in a farmhouse loft in Scotland with a bag stuffed with £70,000, a Spanish court was told last week. Ian Donaldson, 32, is accused of helping fund an international drugs ring smuggling cocaine and speed from Spain to Scotland The former amateur racing driver – who drove a Lamborghini with the distinctive Lambo 88 plate – was tracked down to the farm by officers from the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency. Donaldson – who enjoyed a lavish lifestyle in Marbella and Tenerife– is one of six Brits facing court in Madrid accused of making millions from the drugs trade. Detective Inspector James Wallace of the SCDEA told the court: “I arrested him on February 27, 2009. He was hiding in a loft area in a farm building. We also found £70,000 hidden in a bag.” Eight SCDEA detectives gave evidence to the National Court in the Spanish capital last week via a video link from Edinburgh. The court heard Scottish police mounted a surveillance operation after Donaldson, from Renton, Dunbartonshire, was released on bail. Detectives watched him in a series of meetings in Glasgow and Hamilton in April 2009, as he tried to hide the origins of his fortune, prosecutors allege. Donaldson met with fellow accused Mary Hendry and Joseph Campbell and was observed discussing large sums of money and swapping paperwork for a nightclub in Gran Canaria. It was alleged they were secretly plotting to make it look like Donaldson had made some of his wealth from the club. Meetings took place at supermarkets in Glasgow and Hamilton and the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. DI Wallace told the court: “We saw he (Donaldson) was creating a defence for the Spanish charges. “I believe they (Hendry and Campbell) were both subservient to Donaldson, who instructed them on what to do.” The detective said Donaldson and his company IRD Services were also investigated for money- laundering in Scotland. He added: “There is evidence he purchased seven vehicles in Scotland, worth up to £900,000, between 2006 and 2008.” Mary Hendry told the court she only met Donaldson twice for legitimate business meetings. She said: “Joseph Campbell introduced me to Ian Donaldson because I was trying to sell my restaurant. “I met him the next day and he said he was not interested. I never saw him again.” It is alleged Donaldson was the money man for a gang of drug smugglers based in Tenerife and Marbella, led by Glaswegian Ronald O’Dea, 45. The gang are alleged to have spent millions on luxury villas, fast cars and yachts. In October 2008, police seized a a haul of amphetamines worth £660,000 heading to Scotland after stopping a lorry in Oxfordshire. Donaldson, Hendry and O’Dea share the dock in Madrid with fellow Scot James MacDonald, 62, and Londoners Steve Brown, 45, and Deborah Learmouth, 49. The gang face charges ranging from drug-trafficking to money-laundering. They deny all charges. Two other defendants – Brian Rawlings and Joseph Campbell – failed to show up at the trial. The judges will give their verdict at a later date.
Saturday, 21 April 2012
Wayne Rooney and England rugby union World Cup winner Matt Dawson are among the new wave of high-profile figures suing Rupert Murdoch's News International over alleged News of the World phone hacking. The England and Manchester United football star, his agent Paul Stretford, Dawson, now a BBC rugby commentator and Question of Sport team captain, actor James Nesbitt and Sir John Major's former daughter-in-law, Emma Noble, are among 46 new phone-hacking cases filed at the high court in London. Times Newspapers, the News International subsidiary that publishes the Times and Sunday Times, is also facing its first civil damages claim, from Northern Ireland human rights campaigner Jane Winter, who is also suing NoW publisher, News Group Newspapers. Winter's claim is related to an article in the Sunday Times in August 2006, her solicitor confirmed. A reference to the article was made in a witness statement she submitted to the Leveson inquiry in February. Winter alleged in evidence to the inquiry that her emails to the former British army intelligence officer Ian Hurst were hacked by NoW. A News International spokeswoman said Winter's case would be "defended vigorously". Others who have filed claims in the past few days seeking damages for alleged invasion of privacy from News Group, the News International subsidiary that published the now-closed Sunday tabloid, include former Conservative cabinet minister and chief whip Lord Blencathra and former Fire Brigades Union general secretary Andy Gilchrist. The list of new claimants also features Michelle Bayford, the former girlfriend of the victim of the 2006 so-called "elephant man" drug trial case. Her then boyfriend, Ryan Wilson, spent three weeks in a coma and lost all his toes and parts of his fingers to gangrene. Another claimant, Anne Colvin, was a witness in the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial. At a case management conference at the high court in London , Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing victims of alleged phone hacking, told Mr Justice Vos that he had 44 new cases filed while two others had submitted their claims via another legal representative. The court also heard that law firm Harbottle & Lewis has a number of "sensitive clients" who wish to remain anonymous. It is expected that up to 200 new claims will be filed over the coming months, Tomlinson told the court in a previous hearing. Claims filed in the past week bring the number of new cases against News International to 46. This figure includes earlier claims filed by public figures including Cherie Booth, Alex Best, the former wife of the late footballer George Best, and Colin Stagg, the man wrongly accused of murdering Rachel Nickell. Others who have filed claims include comedian Bobby Davro, actor Tina Hobley's former husband Steve Wallington, TV personalities Jamie Theakston and Jeff Brazier, the former boxer Chris Eubank, and footballers Peter Crouch, Kieron Dyer and Jermaine Jenas. The cases are part of a second wave of civil actions which Vos is managing following the settlement of more than 50 cases earlier this year including claims by Jude Law, Charlotte Church and Lord Prescott. Tomlinson did not disclose the names of the claimants on Friday, but court documents show that new cases submitted to the high court in the past week bring the number of new actions faced by News International to nearly 50, a number that is expected to rise considerably. Tomlinson told the court that News International had received 100 requests for discovery of preliminary disclosure. He said there were 4,791 potential phone-hacking victims, of which 1,892 had been contacted by the police. The police believed 1,174 were "likely victims". Court 30 in the Rolls Building of the high court was packed, with more than 50 law firms acting for victims. Vos said there were 58 firms of solicitors representing only 100 victims, which he told Tomlinson was "unbelievable". The judge added that he wanted to ensure costs are reduced for claimants. "Many of them have seen the light and have instructed lawyers who have specialist knowledge of this case," said Vos. He suggested possible tariffs of costs for each element of the legal action. This would mean fresh claimants could access to information relating to the News of the World's phone-hacking activity already produced on discovery in earlier cases, without incurring the costs associated with a full action. "I will have no sympathy for outrageous cost estimates," he said. "A claimant is entitled to have a solicitor, but what he is not entitled to have is a solicitor who knows nothing about the case and charges the defendant for that."
Friday, 20 April 2012
Once known as the ‘baddest man on the planet’, his life has taken more than a few dark twists and turns.
But now Mike Tyson has for the first time revealed his lowest point ever in a searingly candid interview.
The former heavyweight champion said that back in 2009 he was in a hotel room with seven prostitutes, a morphine drip in his arm, a pile of cocaine and a bottle of cognac when he began to feel paranoid.
Candid: The former world champion gave his most honest interview yet - revealing the drug-fuelled night that made him turn his life around and get clean and sober
Convinced the women were trying to steal from him he started beating them up and threw them out - to stop them from 'taking his soul'.
‘It was the lowest point of a very low life, but it was my own knockout punch to clean up life, get whole, get well - and I haven’t done anything in three years now.
‘I’m clean. I’m sober.’
Tyson’s recently swapped the boxing ring for the cabaret stage in a six night comedy show at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas, where some of his biggest fights took place.
World Champion: Mike Tyson lands the knockout punch to the jaw of challenger Larry Holmes during fourth round of the World Heavyweight Championship in Atlantic City 1988
In an interview with Las Vegas Weekly to promote the show, he was asked to talk about the moment he realised he had to turn his life around.
Tyson, 45 said: ‘Laying in bed in a hotel room - I try never to be alone, even if it’s a prostitute, a dog.
‘This is really dark. I am in my hotel suite, I’ve got seven women there, and I have a morphine drip, and I had my cocaine, and I had my (Viagra like pill) Cialis, I had my marijuana, I had the Hennessy, and I am at my lowest point because I got paranoid and I thought these women were trying to rob me and set me up.
‘I started beating them. I was in a dark place. There was a purpose, though, because I didn’t want to give them any more of my soul.
‘So this is my devil, this is where I am, I am locked up alone. There is nobody there telling me that I’m doing too much.
Troubled: Tyson's first marriage to actress Robin Givens fell apart amid allegations of him being violent - he is now married for the third time
Mug shot: In 1992 Tyson was jailed for raping Desiree Washington - a beauty pageant contestant - he was released from prison after three years
‘That is the devil, he won. I kicked them all out. So that was my lowest point. Oh, man. I am just very grateful to be here - my heart should have blown apart. I was sweating wide awake. No more cocaine. No more. Three years clean.’
In his turbulent life Tyson has been married three times, fathered eight children and became the youngest heavyweight champion the world has ever seen at just 20.
But fame ruined him and his troubled upbringing - his mother was a prostitute and he never knew his pimp father - came back to haunt him.
In the interview he claimed to have earned $300million in winnings but admitted that he was so bad with money he was ‘forced to live paycheck to paycheck’.
In 1992, three years after his first marriage to actress Robin Givens fell apart, he was jailed for six years for raping Desiree Washington, a contestant in the Miss Black America pageant.
Released having served three years, he fought Evander Holyfield in the fight that became one of the most notorious bouts in boxing history when he bit part of his opponent’s ear off.
Reflecting on his life Tyson told Las Vegas Weekly that he was now the happiest he has ever been, and is just trying to be a good husband to his third wife, and a good father to his children.
Tyson said: ‘In order to wear the crown, you have to have a miserable life, and that is the one that inherits the crown.
‘I don’t know, you have to go from the worst to reach the best. I’m just that extreme type of person. That is who I am, the guy that has no limits.’