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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.

Servicios de Aeropuertos Bollivianos SA (Sabsa) is a division of Spain's Abertis Infraestructure SA but Sabsa is also partly owned by Aena Aeropuertos SA based in Madrid. Bolivian president Evo Morales said that the privatization of Sabsa in 1997 was equivalent to "robbery" and "looting". He claimed that since that time the company's profits have been exorbitant and investments "ridiculous".




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, 22 January 2013

Ms Sandiford to be executed for drug trafficking.

A British grandmother has been sentenced to death by firing squad for smuggling almost 5kg of cocaine into Bali.

Lindsay Sandiford was arrested in May last year after she tried to enter the Indonesian holiday island with illegal drugs worth £1.6 million hidden in her suitcase.

Local prosecutors had called for the 56-year-old housewife to be jailed for 15 years. But today there were gasps in the Bali courtroom when a panel of judges announced Ms Sandiford would be executed for drug trafficking.

As the shock verdict was announced, Ms Sandiford, from Gloucestershire, slumped back in her chair in tears before hiding her face with a brown sarong as she was led out of the courtroom.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Merry Christmas

Monday, 10 December 2012

Emotional eating is when people use food as a way to deal with feelings instead of to satisfy hunger. We've all been there, finishing a whole bag of chips out of boredom or downing cookie after cookie while cramming for a big test. But when done a lot — especially without realizing it — emotional eating can affect weight, health, and overall well-being.

diets arent the answer emotional eating

Not many of us make the connection between eating and our feelings. But understanding what drives emotional eating can help people take steps to change it.

One of the biggest myths about emotional eating is that it's prompted by negative feelings. Yes, people often turn to food when they're stressed out, lonely, sad, anxious, or bored. But emotional eating can be linked to positive feelings too, like the romance of sharing dessert on Valentine's Day or the celebration of a holiday feast.

Sometimes emotional eating is tied to major life events, like a death or a divorce. More often, though, it's the countless little daily stresses that cause someone to seek comfort or distraction in food.

Emotional eating patterns can be learned: A child who is given candy after a big achievement may grow up using candy as a reward for a job well done. A kid who is given cookies as a way to stop crying may learn to link cookies with comfort.

It's not easy to "unlearn" patterns of emotional eating. But it is possible. And it starts with an awareness of what's going on.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

ARE YOU ADDICTED TO BUSYNESS ARE YOU A SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICT

ARE YOU ADDICTED TO BUSYNESS ARE YOU A SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICT

You may be lost in the addiction to busyness if…

  • Your usual response to “how are you?” is “so busy”, “crazy busy” or “busy but good”
  • You spend time worrying about how busy you are going to be tomorrow
  • You get angry when your spouse or friends aren’t as busy as you
  • Your busy life keeps you up at night thinking about everything you didn’t get done
  • You make a point of letting people know that you stay at the office after hours
  • You check email several times a day
  • You zone out during conversations thinking about everything you have to do
  • You volunteer for things you don’t care about
  • You spend time complaining about how busy you are
  • You make list after list to make sure you don’t forget anything during your busy day
  • You allocate time each day to clean your desk or organize your stuff
  • You regularly eat in your car
  • You use a phone in the car because “it’s the only time you have to talk”

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Jessica Harper admits £2.4m Lloyds Bank fraud

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 dive after Iran allegations

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.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Paper Passion, a scent from Geza Schoen for Wallpaper magazine, makes its wearers smell like freshly printed books

Paper Passion, a scent from Geza Schoen for Wallpaper* magazine, makes its wearers smell like freshly printed books. I suppose it can be alternated with "In the Library," a perfume that smells like old books.

Paper Passion fragrance by Geza Schoen, Gerhard Steidl, and Wallpaper* magazine, with packaging by Karl Lagerfeld and Steidl.

“The smell of a freshly printed book is the best smell in the world.” Karl Lagerfeld. 

It comes packaged with inside a hollow carved out of a book with "texts" by "Karl Lagerfeld, Günter Grass, Geza Schoen and Tony Chambers."

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

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)

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 boss Bob Diamond resigns

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.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

British banks downgraded as size of Spanish crisis revealed

Britain's banks had their credit ratings downgraded on Thursday night – just hours after the markets began digesting an admission by Spain that its own banks might need up to €62bn (£50bn) of bailout money to see them through the next three years. The result of an independent audit of Spain's banks put the gap in their finances at between €16bn and €62bn – close to the €50bn calculated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) two weeks ago. The UK's banks are expected to be among a number being downgraded by Moody's following a four-month review of the viability of investment banking businesses and the crisis in the eurozone. Moody's downgraded the bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland by one-notch, Barclays by two notches and HSBC which had faced a two-notch downgrade was downgraded by one notch. The UK's other bailed-out bank, Lloyds Banking Group, is also facing a downgrade under a simultaneous review of more than 100 financial institutions' financial health as a result of the eurozone crisis. A downgrade can push up the cost of borrowing for a bank and require it put up extra collateral for some existing loans. RBS, for instance, has estimated that a one-notch downgrade could force it to put up an extra £12.5bn in collateral. Spain's banks were downgraded by Moody's in May amid concerns about the strength of the banking system, and Thursday's independent assessment of Spain's banks will be used by the government in Madrid to calculate the final sum it will ask for when it makes its formal petition for bailout money from Europe's rescue funds. The figures were well below the maximum of €100bn that eurozone governments have offered Spain to bail out those banks that are still laden with toxic assets left over from a property bubble that burst four years ago. Officials said that the formal petition would come within days, though they did not say what the final figure would be or whether the government would add a security cushion. The studies, carried out by auditing companies Roland Berger and Oliver Wyman, covered 14 banking groups that account for 90% of the sector in Spain. Officials hoped that the figures would help calm markets, which responded to the announcement of the bailout two weeks ago by putting further pressure on Spain's state borrowing costs. "We hope this will be definitive," said the secretary of state for the economy, Fernando Jiménez. "We have a generous backstop and are already carrying out a very aggressive provisioning." Markets had lost confidence in Spain's ability to judge its own banking needs after the two rounds of provisioning ordered so far this year failed to prevent the downfall of Bankia, the country's fourth biggest lender, which had to be part-nationalised. Bankia's new management has already said it needs an injection of €19bn of capital. "There was some uncertainty about the resistance of the system," Jiménez admitted. "This is an additional exercise in transparency." Spain's borrowing costs had been falling over the past three days but on Thursday the country still had to pay its highest interest rate for 16 years to raise money over three and five years. The auditors did not produce figures for individual banks, though officials insisted that the study showed that the biggest three lenders – Santander, BBVA and Caixabank – would not need any injection of public capital. A second group of banks may be able to raise capital themselves or might prefer to ask for bailout money. A third group of lenders is made up of former savings banks, like Bankia, that have already received state support. Analysts welcomed the results, but warned they were based on figures that are already six months out of date, in a country that is now in recession. "The decision to bring in independent consultants to pore over the loan books of banks has injected much-needed credibility into the restructuring of Spain's banking sector," said Nicholas Spiro of Spiro Sovereign Strategy. "The perception among foreign investors that the severity of the problems in the banking system are not being recognised is no longer justified." Economy minister Luis de Guindos, who was in Luxembourg with eurozone colleagues to discuss Spain's request, said a formal application would be made within a few days. Eurozone finance ministers offered Spain a bailout loan of up to €100bn on 9 June. The terms of the loan – for which the Spanish government, rather than the banks, will ultimately be responsible – still have to be negotiated.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Bank of England meets amid talk of £50bn stimulus

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.

Europe is on the verge of financial chaos.

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.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Rush for safe havens as euro fears rise

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.

Euro break-up 'could wipe 50pc off London house prices'

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.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

JPMorgan Chase & Co has sold an estimated $25 billion of profitable securities in an effort to prop up earnings

JPMorgan Chase & Co has sold an estimated $25 billion of profitable securities in an effort to prop up earnings after suffering trading losses tied to the bank's now-infamous "London Whale," compounding the cost of those trades.

CEO Jamie Dimon earlier this month said the bank sold corporate bonds and other securities, pocketing $1 billion in gains that will help offset more than $2 billion in losses. As a result, the bank will not have to report as big an earnings hit for the second quarter.

The sales of profitable securities from elsewhere in the bank's investment portfolio will increase its costs by triggering taxes on the gains and by eliminating future earnings from the securities.

Gains from the sales could provide about 16 cents a share of earnings, about one-fifth of the bank's second-quarter profit,analysts said. But rather than creating new value for investors, the transactions merely shift gains in securities from one part of the company's financial statements to another.

"They really made two stupid decisions," said Lynn Turner, a consultant and former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The first was taking risks with derivatives that they did not understand, Turner said.

"The second is selling assets with high income that they can't replace," Turner added. In a low interest-rate environment, the bank will struggle to generate as much income with the cash it received from selling the securities, he said.

Dimon first disclosed the sales on May 10 when he announced thederivatives losses generated from the bank's London office and trader Bruno Iksil -- dubbed the "London Whale" in credit markets due to the size of the trading positions he took. Dimon noted that the bank has another $8 billion of profit it could gain by selling an array of debt securities.

It remains unclear exactly when the bank sold the securities, and the bank has not detailed the value of securities it sold. Given the drawbacks of the sales, it also is unclear how many more the bank will sell to bolster second-quarter profits. To be sure, the bank may have additional reasons for making the sales, and the sales do not violate laws nor are they likely to hurt the bank's stability.

JPMorgan spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the company's public statements.

$380 MILLION TAX BILL

However, based on disclosures that show the bank has historically realized less than a 4 percent gain from selling these kinds of securities, JPMorgan would have to sell $25 billion in securities to generate $1 billion in gains, according to a Reuters analysis of the bank's practices.

Taxes on the gains, if calculated at the 38 percent tax rate that JPMorgan uses to illustrate its business to analysts, would mean a $380 million cost to realize the gains. That would leave a net gain to earnings of $620 million, or 16 cents a share.

Before the sale, the gains would have existed on the bank's books as so-called paper profits, and would have been included on its balance sheet. But when the bank sold and realized the gains, they moved to its income statement as profit.

Paul Miller, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets, said the bank should skip the asset sales and "just take the pain" of reporting lower profits.

Dimon, too, has said he is reluctant to cash in good investments. He highlighted the tax issues in selling these securities when he spoke to analysts May 10.

"We can take some of those gains and we can take them to offset this loss," he said. "But usually it's tax inefficient, so we're very careful about taking gains."

Yet the bank is under pressure to show strong profits. Its stock has fallen 18 percent since the day before it disclosed the losses. It closed Friday at $33.50.

The bank currently is expected to report earnings of 90 cents a share for the second quarter, according to analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. That compares with $1.24 a share before the derivatives debacle was disclosed and $1.27 a share that the bank reported a year earlier.

LOSSES COULD INCREASE

Dimon has not said who at the bank decided to sell the securities. Nor has he said if the decision was made before he knew that the derivatives losses could top $3 billion and before he told analysts on April 13 that reports of trouble with derivatives trades were a "tempest in a teapot."

Meanwhile, the bank's losses could grow, which could increase pressure on the bank to continue securities sales. Some analysts have said the total losses could exceed $5 billion, since the credit derivative markets in which the trades were made are thinly traded and current prices are not favorable to JPMorgan.

The pool from which the securities were sold included, as of March 31, corporate debt securities with an average yield of 3.15 percent and mortgage-backed securities yielding 3.41 percent, according to a company filing. Using the cash to buy back similar securities would not produce yields as high, analysts said.

The financial industry has gone through periods in the past when banks cashed out good assets to cushion losses, said former SEC Chief Accountant Turner. It happened during the U.S. savings and loan crisis in the 1980s, abated during a period of tougher regulatory scrutiny and fewer losses, and then came back during the latest financial crisis.

But the costs are significant. In statements about the latest losses, Dimon has been careful to emphasize the disadvantage of paying more taxes, said Chris Kotowski, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co.

"I think he was trying to tell you, 'Don't expect us to offset all of these losses,'" Kotowski said.

Friday, 25 May 2012

EU cookie implementation deadline is today

A year after its implementation in May 2011, the European Commission's Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive will finally start to be enforced as of tonight, meaning visitors to websites are required to be informed of, and given choice over, the site's intentions to store their data in cookies. Though there has been fierce opposition to the directive, some companies, such as the BBC, Channel 4 and the Guardian, have now begun implementing measures that range from multiple user choices in the level of information shared with the site, to a single message informing the user that, by continuing to browse, they have automatically agreed to have their information stored. Further reading EU cookie law is a 'restraint to trade online', says online retailer Most UK organisations not compliant with EU cookie law New EU cookie law set to come into force But the majority of companies, it is widely reported, will miss tonight's deadline. While the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) still disagrees that a "one size fits all" policy of standardisation is not the way forward when enforcing cookie legislation, some believe such a framework is the only way forward. Society for engineering and technology professionals, the Institution of Engineering & Technology said, "The implementation of this directive is likely to prove very variable until the introduction of a set of standards on the best way to provide a balance between easy browsing and personal privacy. "We had hoped that more progress would have been made on achieving this in the 12 month implementation delay that the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, gave British organisations."

Google plans to warn more than half a million users of a computer infection that may knock their computers off the Internet this summer.

Unknown to most of them, their problem began when international hackers ran an online advertising scam to take control of infected computers around the world. In a highly unusual response, the FBI set up a safety net months ago using government computers to prevent Internet disruptions for those infected users. But that system will be shut down July 9 -- killing connections for those people.

The FBI has run an impressive campaign for months, encouraging people to visit a website that will inform them whether they're infected and explain how to fix the problem. After July 9, infected users won't be able to connect to the Internet.

On Tuesday, May 22, Google announced it would throw its weight into the awareness campaign, rolling out alerts to users via a special message that will appear at the top of the Google search results page for users with affected computers, CNET reported. 

“We believe directly messaging affected users on a trusted site and in their preferred language will produce the best possible results,” wrote Google security engineer Damian Menscher in a post on the company’s security blog.

“If more devices are cleaned and steps are taken to better secure the machines against further abuse, the notification effort will be well worth it,” he wrote.

The challenge, and the reason for the awareness campaigns: Most victims don't even know their computers have been infected, although the malicious software probably has slowed their web surfing and disabled their antivirus software, making their machines more vulnerable to other problems.

Last November, when the FBI and other authorities were preparing to take down a hacker ring that had been running an Internet ad scam on a massive network of infected computers, the agency realized this may become an issue.

"We started to realize that we might have a little bit of a problem on our hands because ... if we just pulled the plug on their criminal infrastructure and threw everybody in jail, the victims of this were going to be without Internet service," said Tom Grasso, an FBI supervisory special agent. "The average user would open up Internet Explorer and get `page not found' and think the Internet is broken."

On the night of the arrests, the agency brought in Paul Vixie, chairman and founder of Internet Systems Consortium, to install two Internet servers to take the place of the truckload of impounded rogue servers that infected computers were using. Federal officials planned to keep their servers online until March, giving everyone opportunity to clean their computers.

But it wasn't enough time.

A federal judge in New York extended the deadline until July.

Now, said Grasso, "the full court press is on to get people to address this problem." And it's up to computer users to check their PCs.

'We started to realize that we might have a little bit of a problem on our hands...'

- Tom Grasso, an FBI supervisory special agent

This is what happened:

Hackers infected a network of probably more than 570,000 computers worldwide. They took advantage of vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Windows operating system to install malicious software on the victim computers. This turned off antivirus updates and changed the way the computers reconcile website addresses behind the scenes on the Internet's domain name system.

The DNS system is a network of servers that translates a web address -- such as http://www.foxnews.com -- into the numerical addresses that computers use. Victim computers were reprogrammed to use rogue DNS servers owned by the attackers. This allowed the attackers to redirect computers to fraudulent versions of any website.

The hackers earned profits from advertisements that appeared on websites that victims were tricked into visiting. The scam netted the hackers at least $14 million, according to the FBI. It also made thousands of computers reliant on the rogue servers for their Internet browsing.

When the FBI and others arrested six Estonians last November, the agency replaced the rogue servers with Vixie's clean ones. Installing and running the two substitute servers for eight months is costing the federal government about $87,000.

The number of victims is hard to pinpoint, but the FBI believes that on the day of the arrests, at least 568,000 unique Internet addresses were using the rogue servers. Five months later, FBI estimates that the number is down to at least 360,000. The U.S. has the most, about 85,000, federal authorities said. Other countries with more than 20,000 each include Italy, India, England and Germany. Smaller numbers are online in Spain, France, Canada, China and Mexico.

Vixie said most of the victims are probably individual home users, rather than corporations that have technology staffs who routinely check the computers.

FBI officials said they organized an unusual system to avoid any appearance of government intrusion into the Internet or private computers. And while this is the first time the FBI used it, it won't be the last.

"This is the future of what we will be doing," said Eric Strom, a unit chief in the FBI's Cyber Division. "Until there is a change in legal system, both inside and outside the United States, to get up to speed with the cyber problem, we will have to go down these paths, trail-blazing if you will, on these types of investigations."

Now, he said, every time the agency gets near the end of a cyber case, "we get to the point where we say, how are we going to do this, how are we going to clean the system" without creating a bigger mess than before




Under European Union law, Greece cannot leave the euro.

That is the theory. But in practice, any protection the law offers investors could be difficult to enforce, according to lawyers trying to protect their corporate clients against the upheaval sure to follow if Greece defaults on its debts and adopts a new currency. So their advice is blunt: Remove cash and other liquid assets from Greece and prepare to take a short-term hit on any other investments. “My personal view is that it is irrational for anyone, whether a corporation or an individual, to be leaving money in Greek financial institutions, so long as there is a credible prospect of a euro zone exit,” said Ian Clark, a partner in London for White & Case, a global law firm that has a team of 10 attorneys focusing on the issue. Several multinational corporations have already taken the same view. Vodafone, the mobile phone operator, and GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceuticals firm, say they are “sweeping” money out of Greece and into British banks each evening. This applies not just to Greece but to most other euro nations, although Glaxo says it still keeps money in Germany. Corporate attorneys say looking to E.U. law provides only approximate guidance on whether Greece could stop using the euro while remaining in the Union. Although the E.U. prides itself on basing decisions on strict interpretation of the legal texts in its governing treaty and other legislation, the rules on euro membership have proved flexible. For example, while all 27 E.U. nations are supposedly obliged to join the single currency, once they meet certain economic criteria, Britain and Denmark were able to negotiate the option of retaining their own currencies. Sweden is one of the nations technically obliged to join the euro, but since a national referendum opposed the idea in 2003, no one has pressed the country to do so. Similarly, while leaving the euro might, legally, mean quitting the union itself, most experts see this as a technicality that can be circumvented as well. “The treaty doesn’t cover the question of what would happen if a country were to leave the euro and return to its previous currency,” said Stephen Weatherill, Jacques Delors Professor of European Law at Oxford University. “In the absence of any provision, there is plenty of space for European governments to concoct a solution, adopt it and for it to be legally enforceable,” he added. “In general, you can do anything you like, so long as you do not breach pre-existing international obligations.” The mechanics of leaving the euro would surely lead Greece to impose so-called capital controls to stem the flight of money from a currency destined to be devalued. Again, such controls look impossible under E.U. law. But Mr. Weatherill thinks that a loophole allowing for the protection of public security could be invoked. Mr. Clark, of White & Case, a global law firm, points to a clause in Article 65 of the treaty that says that the pledge on free movement should not prevent countries from taking measures “which are justified on grounds of public policy or public security.” Mr. Clark and his team serve clients that include financial institutions like BNP Paribas and hedge funds. In February, Andrew Witty, the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, said: “We don’t leave any cash in most European countries” except Germany. Tens of millions of pounds flow into accounts in Britain every day, he said. But, apart from trying to ensure that debts are paid promptly and therefore in euros, legal options for companies are limited. Contracts covered by Greek law, particularly for services delivered in Greece, provide little protection against the currency’s being redenominated and devalued — a development regarded as unlikely until recently. “Greece would, through its laws, be able to amend contracts governed by Greek law or to be performed within the territory of Greece,” Mr. Clark said. “It is the governing law and the place of performance of the contract that is most important.” International contracts, which might be covered by English, German or Swiss law, would be more likely to be honored in the designated currency, though in some cases the wording of the legal document may be vague. And even if the law is on their side, companies would find that to extract payment from a Greek company, they would need a judge in Greece to enforce a ruling from a foreign court. “Enforcement of foreign judgments is harder or easier from country to country within the E.U.,” Mr. Clark said. “Greece has always had a reputation of being a difficult place in which to enforce judgments, from a practical perspective.” That means that international trading partners are likely to share in any losses that accompany a Greek exit from the euro. “International businesses that have long-term interests in Greece are going to have to be pragmatic and probably, in the short term, give some dispensation to their Greek counterparties, rather than trying to enforce the terms of contracts that cannot be performed,” Mr. Clark said.

Former Lloyds worker Jessica Harper in £2.5m fraud charge

A former head of security at Lloyds Bank has been charged in connection with an alleged £2.5m fraud. Jessica Harper, 50, of Croydon, south London, is accused of submitting false invoices to claim payments, between September 2008 and December 2011. At the time she was working as head of fraud and security for digital banking and allegedly made false claims totalling £2,463,750. Ms Harper will appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court on 31 May. She has been charged with one count of fraud by abuse of position. The bank, which is now 39.7% state-owned after being bailed out by the government during the financial crisis, refused to comment on the charging of Ms Harper. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said she was arrested on 21 December 2011 by officers from its fraud squad. Andrew Penhale, from the Crown Prosecution Service's Central Fraud Group, said: "The charge relates to an allegation that between 1 September 2008 and 21 December 2011, Jessica Harper dishonestly and with the intention of making a gain for herself, abused her position as an employee of Lloyds Banking Group, in which she was expected to safeguard the financial interests of Lloyds Banking Group, by submitting false invoices to claim payments totalling £2,463,750.88, to which she was not entitled. "This decision to prosecute was taken in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. "We have determined that there is a realistic prospect of conviction and a prosecution is in the public interest."

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Three killed in northern Italy earthquake

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.

Friday, 18 May 2012

‘Save euro’ plea to Germans as Spain slumps

BRITAIN yesterday piled pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to save the euro. 6 comments Related Stories PM: Make or break for euro HE to issue plea to Merkel to fork out as only way to stave off meltdown New French Pres gets a soakingFrench warning for CameronSarky poll malarky will leave PM narky David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne said she must use her financial clout to stop the single currency collapsing. The PM hammered the message home in emergency talks via video-link with Mrs Merkel and French president Francois Hollande. It came as the chaos in Greece spread to Spain — with fears of a run on banks in both countries. Greeks have taken £560million from local banks in the past week. And yesterday Spain’s Bankia bank was forced to deny reports customers had taken £800million out of its coffers in the past seven days. Last night the fears hit Santander UK as credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded the bank along with its Spanish owner and 15 other Spanish banks. And credit agency Fitch downgraded Greece on fears it will be booted out of the Eurozone. Earlier, Mr Osborne said the Treasury had drawn up emergency plans to cope with Greece quitting the euro. He told MPs: “Britain will be prepared for whatever comes.” Mr Cameron had warned countries such as Greece and Spain can only survive if richer countries did more to “share the burden of adjustment”. He also backed Eurobonds to raise billions to prop up crisis-hit countries — a proposal that would have to be bankrolled by Berlin. After the video chat, a Downing Street spokesman said the PM urged the eurozone to take “decisive action to ensure financial stability and prevent contagion”.

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

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.



Thursday, 17 May 2012

'Queen of Disco' Donna Summer 'thought she became ill after inhaling 9/11 particles'

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

49 BODIES FOUND IN A HIGHWAY NORTHERN MEXICO
Grafitti saying 'Z 100%', referring to the Los Zetas cartel, near to where 49 mutilated bodies were found in Northern Mexico. Photograph: Miguel Sierra/EPA

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.

JPMorgan's Trading Loss Is Said to Rise at Least 50%

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.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Clinton Cards prepares for administration

Troubled retailer Clinton Cards has warned it expects its largest supplier to begin steps to place it into administration later on Wednesday. As a result, the company said it had requested for trading in its shares to be suspended with immediate effect. It said two of its banks sold £35m of loans to supplier American Greetings. While the banks had waived certain conditions for the loans, American Greetings is pressing for repayments that Clinton Cards cannot meet. Founded in 1968, it is the UK's biggest card retailer, operating 628 Clinton shops and 139 Birthdays stores, and employs more than 8,000 staff. In March, Clinton reported a loss of £3.7m for the six months to the end of January and said the outlook for 2012 was worse than previously thought. On Wednesday, it said like-for-like sales, which strip out the impact of sales from shops opened or closed in the past year, fell 3.5% in the past 14 weeks compared with a year earlier.

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.

Locked Up Abroad is different.

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 airline bmibaby to close

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.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Gas canister man storms office

One of the country's busiest shopping streets has been closed as a man wearing gas canisters stormed into an office and threatened to blow himself up, it was reported. Tottenham Court Road in central London was closed after police received emergency calls at midday. Scotland Yard sent a hostage negotiator to the scene amid reports the man had held people hostage inside the building several floors up. Pictures emerged of computer and office equipment being thrown through one of the office windows. A police spokesman said it was "too early to say if the suspect was armed or indeed had taken any hostages" but businesses and nearby buildings were evacuated. Joaqam Ramus, who works at nearby Cafe Fresco, said before being evacuated: "There was talk of a bomb and somebody having a hostage in a building. "All Tottenham Court Road is closed and so are we - the police told us to shut. "We don't know what it is but it seems someone has a hostage."

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Credit card fraud websites shut down on three continents

Three men have been arrested and 36 criminal websites selling credit card information and other personal data shut down as part of a two-year international anti-fraud operation, police have confirmed. The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), working with the FBI and US Department of Justice, as well as authorities in Germany; the Netherlands; Ukraine; Australia and Romania, swooped after identifying the sites as specialising in selling card and bank details in bulk. The move comes as a blow to what is a growing black market for stolen financial data. Detectives estimated that the card information seized could have been used to extract more than £500m in total by fraudsters. SOCA claimed it has recovered more than two and a half million items of compromised personal and financial information over the past two years. “The authorities have shut down 36 websites but it is difficult to know how many other people had access to that data. They could spring back up somewhere else if a gang is not eradicated completely,” said Graham Cluley of internet security firm Sophos. He added: “This is big business and, just as in any legitimate company there are people who specialise in different things, so there are those who actually get their hands on the personal data and those who sell it on; they are not often the same person.” An investigation by The Independent last summer found that scammers were making a “comfortable living” getting their hands on sensitive information and selling it online. Card details were being offered for sale for between 4p and £60 per card – depending on the quality – according to one source in the business. Some cards would be sold with incomplete or unreliable information; others ready to use. Some of the card details for sale on the websites shut down by SOCA were being sold for as little as £2 each. Investigators said that the alleged fraudsters were using Automated Vending Carts, which allowed them to sell large quantities of stolen data. They are said to be a driver of the growth in banking fraud over the last 18 months because of the speed with which stolen data can be sold. Lee Miles, Head of Cyber Operations for SOCA said: “This operation is an excellent example of the level of international cooperation being focused on tackling online fraud. Our activities have saved business, online retailers and financial institutions potential fraud losses estimated at more than half a billion pounds, and at the same time protected thousands of individuals from the distress caused by being a victim of fraud or identity crime.” An alleged operator in Macedonia was one of those arrested, while two British men accused of buying the information were also detained. Britain’s Dedicated Cheque & Plastic Crime Unit also seized computers suspected of being used to commit fraud.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Denny Hamlin held off hard-charging Martin Truex Jr. down the stretch on Sunday to win at Kansas Speedway for the first time.

 

 ON POINT Eight-win season is just one of Denny Hamlin's stellar achievements. Check out his top racing accomplishments. Truex had dominated most of the race, but Hamlin had gone to the front when his car hooked up under the first sunshine of the afternoon. Truex mounted a comeback, diving low with a couple laps left, but he couldn't make the move stick and Hamlin pulled away. He coaxed his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota the rest of the way for his second win this season. Truex wound up leading a race-high 173 laps but had to settle for second, his third top-5 finish of the season. He still hasn't won in 175 Sprint Cup races. Jimmie Johnson finished third for Hendrick Motorsports, which has failed in 14 tries to win the team's milestone 200th race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne also finished in the top 10. ''I was just watching from the third spot, hoping those guys would give me an opportunity,'' Johnson said. ''I just wish I was closer to those guys to race for it.'' Hamlin's best finish at Kansas Speedway was third last year, and for most of Sunday he was content to ride around during long green-flag runs away from the spotlight.

Spain is an Absolute Disaster

Well the financial world is awash with reports that the Spanish auctions went well. They did not. And you better believe the ECB and other Central Banks were involved in the buying. Instead, Wall Street is using the auction (and just about every other announcement this morning) to shred and those who sold calls in their usual options expiration games. This has been the norm for years, but the mainstream financial media continues to find “fundamental” excuses for market action that is clearly just manipulation and nothing more. Case in point, if the Spanish auction went so well, why are Spanish Credit Default Swaps widening? Ditto for Spanish yields (the ten year is back closing in on 6%). However, ultimately this auction means next to nothing. Spain is an absolute disaster on a level that few if any analysts can even grasp. How else do you describe a country for which: Total Spanish banking loans are equal to 170% of Spanish GDP. Total Spanish private sector debt is near 300% of GDP. Troubled loans at Spanish Banks just hit an 18-year high of over 8%. Spanish Banks are drawing a record €316.3 billion from the ECB (up from €169.2 billion in February). By the way, Spanish banks need to roll over 20% of their bonds this year too. Good luck with that. I’m sure it will all work out well. After all, the ECB and IMF have the funds to prop up Spain’s €1 trillion economy. Oh wait, they don’t. In fact no one does. The IMF’s requests for more funds have been rejected by both the US and Canada (you really think Obama will fund a European bailout during an election year?). And the ECB has already blown up its balance sheet to the point that Germany and the ECB are growing hostile to each other (I’m sure this will work out well too). Forget today’s auction and the spin being thrown about. Spain is a disaster. Its banking system is a sewer of toxic debts which the Spanish Government has attempted to fix by either merging insolvent banks together or spreading toxic garbage onto the public’s balance sheet. This might fly in the US (or has least has so far) where the economy is more robust and diversified than in Spain. But for a country whose housing bubble dwarfed that of the US and which is already posting unemployment of 24% (the highest in the industrialized world) and youth unemployment of 50%+, it’s a tough sell. Oh, and Spain’s King decided to take time off from hearing about the Crisis to go elephant hunting. That should go over well with the Spanish populace, which is now facing austerity measures when the country is already in a Depression. Just wait, once options expiration ends, we’ll be back to the fireworks. In fact, smart investors should take advantage of this ramp job to prepare for what’s coming.

police hunt for Michael Brown's missing millions

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.

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