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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to http://pennystockpaycheck.com for 100% free stock alerts Chase Bank has moved to limit cash withdrawals while banning business customers from sending...

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Richemont chairman Johann Rupert to take 'grey gap... Billionaire 62-year-old to take 12 months off from Cartier and Montblanc luxury goods groupRichemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert is to take a year off from September, leaving management of the...

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Cambodia: aftermath of fatal shoe factory collapse... Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday

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Spate of recent shock departures by 50-something CEOs While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted upOn approaching his 60th birthday...

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UK Uncut loses legal challenge over Goldman Sachs tax... While judge agreed the deal was 'not a glorious episode in the history of the Revenue', he ruled it was not unlawfulCampaign group UK Uncut Legal Action has lost its high court challenge over the legality...

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Spate of recent shock departures by 50-something CEOs

Category : Business

While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted up

On approaching his 60th birthday this year, long-serving Tullow Oil boss Aidan Heavey told staff he felt “like two 30-year-olds”. A handful of recent shock departures by 50-something chief executives at European blue chip companies – none of them under any obvious pressure to quit – suggest some of his peers either lack that vigour, or want to channel it elsewhere.

Peter Voser is giving up one of the world’s most challenging chief executive roles at Royal Dutch Shell next year, before his 55th birthday, in pursuit of a “lifestyle change”. Swiss engineering group ABB’s 55-year-old boss Joe Hogan is also going, for “private reasons”. Pierre-Olivier Beckers, 53, is walking out on Belgian retailer Delhaize, and Paul Walsh, 57, is waving goodbye to drinks multinational Diageo. All four are about average European CEO age.

While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted up in recent years, and not just because of the tough economic times.

“The reality is it’s gruelling. It’s really tough, and there comes a point where you don’t want to do it any more,” said Ian Butcher, who headhunts board-level and senior executives for MWM Consulting.

“The quarterly reporting, the governance, the regulatory aspects, it just becomes very wearing – the level of scrutiny, the pace at which things are moving, the short-term nature of how people look at any given situation. Even over the past five years these things have made CEO a tougher position to hold, and the travel that people have to undertake in these jobs – it’s just something they run out of steam on.”

Some recent early retirees, while still well short of traditional retirement age, also got to the top spot early. “They’re still in their early fifties, with energy and a desire to do something, but they want to do something different, something quite significantly different sometimes,” says Butcher.

Voser fits that bill. He has no plans to collect well-paid chairmanships and non-executive directorships, as many ex-CEOs have done in the past.

Former Tesco chief Sir Terry Leahy has also resisted that gravy train since he left two years ago.

As for the early starters, executive search industry professionals point at people like Andrew Witty, the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, who took on the job aged 44 in 2008 and would have to stay in harness for another decade to reach 60 in the role.

Blue-chip bosses as young as Witty are still rare, but over a quarter of Europe’s current crop have less than two years in the job, and more than half have less than four, according to data from executive search specialists BoardEx.

The BoardEx data, collected for Reuters from 238 companies in the main stock indexes of Germany, Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark, puts the median CEO age at 55. The longest serving of them is Martin Gilbert of the British fund Aberdeen Asset Management. Though younger, at 57, Gilbert pips the 28.3-year tenure of Tullow’s double 30-year-old Heavey, with 29.8 years at the helm.

There are 17 top European CEOs who have been in the job for less than six months, and the youngest of the 225 in the group for whom ages were available is Vitaly Nesis, 37, who runs Polymetal International, the London-listed Russian precious metals miner.

While the recent spate of quitters are looking for something else to do, there are still some who appear to want nothing but to stay.

In the BoardEx group there are four over 70, and the oldest by eight years is Albert Frère, CEO of Group Bruxelles Lambert. Perhaps some linger on for fear that the pension pot is still a little light. Frere will have put such qualms behind him long ago. At 87, he is Belgium’s richest man.

Tax havens are entrenching poverty in developing countries | Richard Miller

Category : Business

Poorer nations lose three times more money to havens a year than they get in aid. The G8 has the chance to change this

The Guardian has brought yet more news about the widespread use of tax havens by some of the world’s largest multinationals operating in developing countries. From ActionAid’s own investigations we know that these tax havens can all too often provide vehicles for tax avoidance that hits the world’s poorest hardest.

In the case of just one FTSE100 multinational we recently investigated – Associated British Foods, maker of Ryvita and Silver Spoon sugar – we found the company had used tax haven conduit companies to legally avoid enough Zambian tax to put 48,000 children in school. Zambia is a nation where almost half of children fail to complete their education.

Tax haven secrecy can also be used to deflect scrutiny from a range of unaccountable transactions in developing nations. Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel last week highlighted mining deals involving two FTSE100 multinationals, carried out through companies in the British Virgin Islands, Panama and Gibraltar, which the panel claims have deprived the Democratic Republic of Congo of an estimated $1.36bn – almost twice the country’s education and health budgets combined.

From near-deserted Caribbean islands to major financial centres, tax havens offer a harbour for wealth and profits siphoned from around the world. Tax havens provide the legal machinery for tax avoiders, and protection for illegal tax evaders, denying developing economies the public revenues needed for hospitals, schools, clean water and functioning roads. The figures are staggering. According to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, developing countries lose three times more money to tax havens each year than they receive in aid.

The statistics cannot, of course, show the tax impact of each tax haven company. Some may indeed have real business, and not simply be avoiding taxes in places where real business is done. But this is precisely the point: corporate reporting fails to show the transactions and tax bills of multinationals’ operations in many of these jurisdictions. And these same jurisdictions often deny this information to under-resourced tax authorities in the world’s poorest countries too.

Tax haven structures may be nearly universal, but they are not a fact of nature in modern business. Financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown and mining company Fresnillo, for instance, have no tax haven subsidiaries at all, despite operating in sectors that are no strangers to “offshore”. Others are making efforts at least to disclose their tax structures around the world: when ActionAid put questions about their tax haven companies to all FTSE100 companies, 15 responded with significant extra details.

Yet overall there is little incentive not to place profits and assets in tax haven companies, or to disclose these profits and assets, unless governments themselves end the secrecy and abusive tax regimes that tax havens offer. The countries represented at June’s G8 have a unique combination of economic and political weight, responsibility and jurisdiction over the problem. The UK alone is responsible for one in five of the world’s tax havens, more than any other single country in the world. Yet while the UK and other wealthy countries have recently begun to push their tax havens to disclose the financial assets that their taxpayers hold offshore, these deals as yet leave developing countries out in the cold.

The G8 can and must commit to ending the anonymous ownership of tax haven companies and trusts, and making tax havens disclose the information that tax authorities around the world desperately need. To fix the biggest part of this problem the information it generates must be available for all countries – including the poorest – from day one.

When the UK government convenes the leaders of the world’s wealthiest countries at the G8 summit this June, it has an opportunity, an interest and a duty to do something extraordinary: to tackle one of the biggest hidden obstacles in the fight against poverty by putting an end to tax havens. With David Cameron, George Osborne, François Hollande, Angela Merkel, other world leaders and ordinary taxpayers calling for change, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. None of us – from the richest to the poorest countries – can afford for the G8 to miss it.

Ocado shares lose 8% on worries about Waitrose contract

Category : Business

Waitrose lawyers looking at deal details after Ocado looking at tie-up with Morrisons

Ocado has dropped 8% on concerns about the effect of its proposed tie-up with Morrisons on its existing deal with Waitrose.

As the Guardian reported on Friday, lawyers for Waitrose are poring over its deal with Ocado to see if any move by the online grocer to help Morrisons set up a website would constitute breach of contract.

The news followed a protest vote by shareholders at Ocado’s annual meeting on Friday over board pay packages, including a 30% salary rise for chief executive Tim Steiner.

Ocado’s shares – which have been up sharply in recent days in antipation of the Morrisons deal – are currently down 18.2p at 206.4p. Analyst Clive Black at Shore Capital repeated his sell recommendation, saying:

The business seems to be evolving from an aspiration to be a proprietary retailer into a landlord of its two customer fulfilment centres and licensee of its kit to third parties. Whilst a notable potential change in strategy, it could be argued that it signals an admission of defeat by Ocado; so the introduction of Plan B.

We believe that Ocado is playing with fire in speaking to another British supermarket group, as it tries to utilise its substantially greater fulfilment capacity, because the group’s umbilical cord to Waitrose may be cut sooner than we anticipated and Ocado cannot exist as a commercial entity without Waitrose in our view.

Whilst Ocado states that any agreement with Morrison’s would not be a conflict with Waitrose, we see the mood of [Waitrose chief executive Mark Price] as being deadly serious. As such, Ocado may have irreparably polluted a commercial relationship upon which it is dependent and it must lead to a greater chance of a break in 2017 in our view. Additionally, Waitrose’s understandably forthright stance means that the prospect of Morrison and Waitrose brands simultaneously utilising Ocado’s fulfilment centres and vans is low. As such, the extent of a tie-up between Morrison and Ocado needs to be pencilled down, along with it the financial extent.

The strong appreciation of Ocado’s shares makes the stock more attractive for investors to bank gains and effectively short to our minds. Aside from now uber-stratospheric valuation multiples, the stock does not offer the prospect of a dividend anytime soon either, unlike all of its UK listed food retailers. Whilst we pride ourselves on taking reasonably long-term and strategic views of companies and industries, the time horizon for Ocado to be meaningfully profitable so that it pays a dividend to its shareholders is very extended; in fact it probably remains decades away, if ever. Now, many investors commendably operate on multi-decade timescales, but again, we believe that this is not applicable in Ocado’s case because it is selling multi-temperature foodstuffs where margin expansion potential is structurally low.

G4S shares tumble as European business disappoints

Category : Business

World’s largest security company loses 11% as it warns on profit margins

Shares in G4S, the company that bungled the security of last year’s Olympics, slumped 11% on Tuesday morning, after it said profit margins would be lower than expected in 2013 because of a difficult first quarter in Europe.

The news will pile further pressure on the firm’s chief executive, Nick Buckles, who was forced to appear before MPs last summer to admit the operation for the 2012 Games was a “humiliating shambles”.

The world’s largest security company, which provides services ranging from manned security guards, to cash transportation and running prisons, pulled forward its trading update to say that group margins would be down 0.6% in the three months to the end of March, and would probably stay lower all year.

G4S is still struggling to recover from 2012 when profits collapsed by a third after the security contractor was forced to pay out £88m over its failure to supply enough guards for the London 2012 Olympics.

The company blamed the drop in margins on challenging conditions in continental Europe. It said prices in its cash solutions arm, which transports and stores money for businesses in the UK and Ireland, were under pressure. G4S was also hit by a £6m charge in Africa after some clients did not pay their bills. It said the proposed closure of 30 prisons in the Netherlands would also have an impact on the business.

“For all of these reasons, and despite ongoing business improvement plans, the first quarter margin trends are expected to continue for the full year,” the company said in a statement.

Overall, revenues grew by 7.5% at constant exchange rates in the first quarter. Organic growth, which strips out the impact of acquisitions, rose by 6% in the group as a whole and by 12% in developing markets.

Caroline de La Soujeole of Cantor Research retained a buy recommendation on the stock, despite the “disappointing” news, citing G4S’s attractive operational and geographical profile. The shares tumbled 32.5p to 273p.

‘University of John Lewis’ to offer staff work-based degree scheme

Category : Business

Staff-owned retailer announces plan to offer senior managers a level-6 vocational qualification equivalent to an honours degree

John Lewis is planning to offer its staff the chance to study for “degrees” under a work-based scheme dubbed the “University of John Lewis”.

The staff-owned retailer said it would offer senior managers a level 6 vocational qualification, said to be equivalent to an honours degree, by the end of the year. The department store chain already offers a range of existing programmes leading to qualifications. Last year 1,330 John Lewis partners gained a retail diploma, with a third picking up a level

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Nationwide failed to act against identity fraudsters

Category : Business

Standing order scammers have taken £1,300 from my account, but Nationwide has not been helpful

I recently logged in to my online Nationwide account, only to discover that two unknown standing orders had cleared more than £1,300 out of my current account, leaving me with just £21. As I had had nothing to do with them – they were both to estate agents I had never heard of – I printed the statement and rushed to my local Nationwide branch. There was no manager available but a cashier cancelled the two standing orders. I asked whether I had signed the forms indicating I had consented to them being set up, and she said I hadn’t.

My card was stopped, and I was put in a cubicle and told to ring Nationwide HQ to sort out the problem. No one offered any support.

After lengthy waits and several more questions, I was told that once it was proved that I had not set up the standing orders, I would be refunded. Someone would ring me on Friday or Monday. When I arrived home, I had a message from a woman who worked for the Carlisle branch. She wanted to know if I had set up a standing order to Alpha Lettings. She said the signature very clearly did not match mine, so she had declined it.

Since then it has emerged that someone – or a group of people – has tried to set up a string of standing orders on my account, all to estate agents around the country. A second trip to a bigger branch wasn’t much good, either, and promised call-backs have not materialised. It seems to me that Nationwide doesn’t know what it’s doing when it comes to identity fraud of this kind. Can you please help? CB, south-west London

It’s clear from your letter that the building society hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory when dealing with this problem. The staff seemed to have no idea how stressful it was to discover £1,300 had gone from your bank account, and you should have been treated more sympathetically.

Standing order fraud is, according to our research, relatively rare, but your case has highlighted how easy it is to commit. You later realised that one of your bank statements failed to arrive around Christmas and, armed with this, the culprit probably set up the standing orders, relying on staff not looking at the signature too closely.

We suspect that although estate agent names were used, the money ended up in an unrelated, non-business account. For some reason, these frauds often seem to lead to a Barclays account at a branch in east London.

Nationwide accepts it should have handled the matter better. “While we have measures in place to prevent standing order fraud, and the overwhelming majority of attempts are prevented, it is clear we have let CB down on this occasion. It is important to note any innocent victim of fraud will always be refunded,” says a spokesman.

The money taken from your account has been returned, with an additional £200 to make up for the poor service.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@guardian.co.uk or write to Bachelor & Brignall, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number

Has Sports Direct scored a pricing own goal?

Category : Business

The website advertised a shirt at £13 but raised the price to £17 when I went to buy it

I recently found a Nike Tech Golf Polo shirt on the Sports Direct website for £13. But as soon as I tried to buy it, it came up in the “my bag” area (basket) at £17. My complaint was ignored, but when I looked again, the price had been increased to £17. What’s the legal position? JC, by email

This is a question that is increasingly being asked, especially on the back of the boom in internet shopping, and a number of high-profile online price gaffes. Quite simply, retailers are under no obligation to sell you items that have been incorrectly priced, whether you are in a store, or looking online.

Most online retailers’ terms and conditions state that the contract is formed at the point of despatch, allowing them to check the transaction and correct any errors. So had Sports Direct charged you £13 for the shirt and sent it out, it could not then demand the extra £4 if it later realised its error. The same would be true if you bought it in store, and then left the shop with the item.

Equally, if you see a £399 computer advertised for £3.99, and you buy and pay for 10 computers, the retailer will not be required to go through with the sale, assuming it spots the mistake before it sends them out to you.

If it sent them to you, there would be no obligation on you to pay the difference if later asked.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@guardian.co.uk or write to Bachelor & Brignall, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number

Starting a food business: Q&A roundup

Category : Business

Last week a panel of experts answered your questions on starting up in the food industry. Here are the highlights

Monique Borst is a food business development expert

How can you check if your food business idea is viable?: In my experience, people often mistake their aptitude for cooking or passion for food as a shoo-in for business success. Rather than write a full business plan, one quick and easy way to determine whether your food business idea is potentially viable is to run through this checklist:

1. Do I have a market for it?

2. Do I know how to reach the people who might want this?

3. Do I have the resources, skills and time to do this?

4. Is this something people will pay for?

5. How sustainable is this business?

6. Is the business marketable?

Paul Bray is an associate director at Smith & Williamson

Be sensible when financing your food business: The key message has to be not to over-stretch yourself in the early periods. Start small and grow at a sensible pace, otherwise you will be running around chasing your tail – get a sound start underway and then progress in time, rather than rush.

Jean Edwards is the managing director at Deli Farm Charcuterie

Farmers’ markets are a good way to test your product when starting up: When I started just over seven years ago my only sales were through a regular weekly farmers’ market; it was a brilliant way of getting to market and meeting people, getting feedback and so on. By the end of our first summer I was too busy to attend the market on a regular basis, but would never look back on the contacts that I made from there.

What sort of environmental health regulations arise when starting a food business from home? A lot depends on what type of business you are thinking of starting and where you see your customer base. All food premises have to be passed by environmental health, so I would suggest you have a preliminary meeting with your local environmental health officer (EHO), explain exactly what you are intending to do and they will advise you. Remember your EHO is a source of free information – use them as a resource and not the enemy!

Miranda Ballard is the co-founder at Muddy Boots, a beef burger company

What to think about in terms of location: You’ll know where you should be by doing research into the market and your demographic. Go where your customers are so that you’re surrounded by them and you can start selling to them. Remember to be where you want to be too – no point living where you’re not happy. There’s no point taking all the risks and stresses of having your own business if you’re not happy with where you’re living. What’s best for the business is also what’s best for you – there’s more chance the company will survive if you’re happy.

You can still be a British brand with ingredients sourced elsewhere: We’re a British food brand, from a marketing and content perspective. Some of our ingredients (tomato puree, garlic, black pepper) are imported. We’ve seen all those prices go up in the past 18 months because of transport, labour and production. The idea that all food produced in Britain will stay in Britain doesn’t acknowledge the foods that can’t be grown or produced here – our taste buds will have to revert after these glory years!

Think carefully about how you use social media: In the past month, I’ve been really thinking about social media for small businesses. I think there’s a danger that the massive national or global platform that it brilliantly provides can actually sometimes be too wide a marketing spread for the small business. What I mean is, we all know that we’re meant to find our demographic and then target them, to the point of excluding everyone else. I worry that small businesses can get distracted with the cross-demographic appeal of social media. It’s important to remember you have to work hard to find and appeal to your own demographic – a like or a retweet from someone in your demographic is much, much more valuable than 100 from those outside it.

Roopa Rawal is the co-founder at Devnaa, a luxury Indian-inspired confectionery company

Know your brand: Be really passionate about your products and do everything you can to build a good reputation for your brand – interact with consumers as much as possible. Customer care is really important especially with food, as even though ingredients are all written down people will want to be assured of the taste, quality of ingredients, allergy information and so on. The best part is that if they like it they will definitely go out and tell everybody they know about it.

Quality of food is paramount at the moment: I think more so than with healthy eating, consumers are becoming more aware of the quality of what they eat and drink. As people have become more health conscious they’ve also realised that the quality of what they consume plays just as big a part in maintaining their health – even if they want a treat.

Philippa Taylor works at Grand Union PR, a food PR company

Think about how you portray yourself online: Make sure that you have a domain name which is unique to you for a hosted website which you can customise yourself, and that your website is set-up to either sell online, act as a brochure or both. Drive traffic to your site by regularly updating it with seasonal and limited edition products, newsletters, competitions, recipes and testimonials and so on. Link all your promotion together on the social media channels you use and push customers towards your website. Set up Google Analytics so that you can see what works and what doesn’t.

Offline, think about taking information and images from your website and using them in leaflets at markets, on pop-up banners at events, and as press releases for journalists.

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To receive more like this you can become a member of the Small Business Network here.

Warren Buffett and board ‘agree’ on next CEO – but name no names

Category : Business

Buffett , 82, says he is ‘solidly in agreement’ with Berkshire Hathaway board members as to who should take over from him

Warren Buffett and the board of his conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway are “solidly in agreement” on who should be the company’s next chief executive, he said at Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting on Saturday.

But Buffett, as with past practice, did not actually name his successor as CEO.

Speculation usually focuses on a small group of top Berkshire executives, among them insurance boss Ajit Jain and railroad leader Matt Rose.

The 82-year-old Buffett, in response to a shareholder question, said he thinks all the time about what could go wrong at Berkshire after he is gone.

“The key is preserving a culture and having a successor, a CEO that will have more brains, more energy, more passion for it than even I have … We’re solidly in agreement as to who that individual should be,” Buffett said.

Whoever ultimately takes over Berkshire will run a conglomerate that employs more than a quarter-million people in dozens of businesses worldwide, covering everything from ice cream to insurance and retail to railroads.

Its breadth means that its performance is often seen as a barometer for the broader economy. Earlier Saturday, one of Buffett’s top lieutenants said things were picking up but could improve further.

“It feels like a 2% economy. If we want to see GDP click up to 3.5%, 4%, you need to see more construction,” said Rose, CEO of the railroad Burlington Northern, in an interview.

Rose said BNSF was seeing “across the board” increases in demand to ship things like concrete, roofing tiles and cars.

But as much as investors want to hear about Berkshire’s growth potential and the state of the economy, some also attend the meeting just for a good laugh.

The meeting opened, as it does every year, with a video montage. This year’s included a duet between Buffett and singer Jon Bon Jovi and a take-off on the TV series Breaking Bad.

Some of the best comedy, though, usually comes in the verbal sparring between Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger over the course of the day. The two are close – they usually share an oversize box of peanut brittle during the meeting – but Munger’s acerbic tongue pops out from time to time.

“I come to see Charlie Munger needle Warren Buffett. Only he can,” said Sherman Silber, a doctor and shareholder.

Glencore traded with Iranian supplier to nuclear weapon’s programme

Category : Business

Company says it ‘ceased transactions prior to EU sanctions’ when it learned of links with Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran

One of Britain’s biggest companies has made millions of pounds selling goods to Iran, including to a state-owned firm that supplies the regime’s nuclear programme.

Glencore, a commodity trading house run by the billionaire Ivan Glasenberg, traded $659m (£430m) of goods, including aluminium oxide, to Iran last year, the Guardian has established.

The company, which is one of the biggest businesses in the FTSE 100 and has a market value more than three times that of Marks & Spencer, has admitted that some of its aluminium oxide ended up in the hands of Iranian Aluminium Company (Iralco).

Trafigura, another commodity trading house, has also admitted to trading an unspecified aluminium oxide (also known as alumina) with Iralco in the past.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has named Iralco as supplying aluminium to Iran Centrifuge Technology Company (Tesa), which is part of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI). Aluminium oxide is an important material in gas centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

At the time of the Glencore and Trafigura trades with Iralco, it was not illegal or a breach of sanctions to supply Iran with alumina. It is unknown whether Glencore or Trafigura’s alumina passed from Iralco to Tesa, or whether it was used in centrifuge construction.

Since 2006, AEOI has been subject to UN sanctions designed to prevent Iran’s nuclear armament ambitions. Trading with Tesa has been specifically banned under US, EU and UK sanctions since July 2010. Iralco was added to the EU sanctions list in December 2012.

Glencore said it “ceased transactions” with Iralco immediately when it learned of its links with Tesa, and the last trade was in October 2012. “Prior to EU sanctions in December 2012, we were not aware of a link/contract between Iralco and Tesa,” the company said in a statement.

Glencore said it is “reliant on the relevant regulatory bodies/governments to advise us on developments in who we can/can’t do business with”.

Tehran, which some experts say already has enough enriched uranium to make several nuclear weapons, is in the middle of upgrading its stock of more than 10,000 centrifuges. The IAEA said Iran is replacing outdated centrifuges with thousands of more powerful IR-2m models.

Experts at the Institute for Science and International Security (Isis) in London said: “Iran is trying to replace maraging [super-strong] steel end-caps with high strength aluminium end-caps.”

Mark Fitzpatrick, director of Isis’s nonproliferation and disarmament programme, said the new centrifuges could enrich uranium four to five times faster than the existing ones. Iran insists its enriched material is for peaceful use, not for nuclear weapons, but it has refused to allow IAEA inspectors into several of its atomic facilities.

The question surrounding Glencore’s role in unintentionally potentially helping arm a nuclear Iran comes as Obama ramps up pressure on Tehran to end its atomic weapons programme. This month, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said: “We understand the nature of the threat of Iran. And as the president has said many times – he doesn’t bluff. He is serious. We will stand with Israel against this threat and with the rest of the world, who have underscored that all we are looking for is Iran to live up to its international obligations.”

Mark Wallace, a former US ambassador to the UN, said Glencore’s dealings with Iran were “completely unacceptable”, adding: “We might expect this from a Russian or Chinese company, but the truth is that even those companies usually stay away from this sort of exposure.”

Glencore said it “complies with applicable laws and regulations, including applicable sanctions. We closely monitor all new legal developments to ensure that we continue to be in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, including applicable sanctions.”

Details of the firm’s dealings with Iralco were leaked to the media in February, but the company declined to specify how much the deals were worth.

The Guardian has learned that Glencore traded $659m worth of metals, wheat and coal with Iranian entities during 2012. Buried deep in its annual report, one of Glencore’s US affiliates, Century Aluminium, 46% owned by Glencore, states: “During 2012 non-US affiliates of the largest stockholder of the company [Glencore] entered into sales contracts for wheat and coal as well as sale and purchase contracts for metal oxides and metals with Iranian entities, which are either fully or majority owned by the GOI [government of Iran].”

Glencore declined to state how much of the $659m it dealt with Iran in 2012 was related to alumina/aluminium. The trades were not illegal or against sanctions at the time. It is not the first time Glencore’s activities have attracted controversy. Last year the head of its food trading business said the worst drought to hit the US since the 1930s would be “good for Glencore” because it would lead to opportunities to exploit soaring prices. It has also attracted attention by selling more than £50m worth of wheat to the World Food Programme.

Trafigura, which came to global political attention when it was revealed that a licensed independent contractor of a ship it had chartered dumped tonnes of toxic oil slops in Ivory Coast, said: “We can confirm that Trafigura has traded with Iralco in the past. In October 2011, a physical swap agreement was reached whereby Trafigura provided alumina to Iralco in return for aluminium for Trafigura to export worldwide. No deliveries have been made or exports received since new EU sanctions were published in December 2012. Trafigura Group companies are compliant with national and international law where applicable.”