Mon, May 06, 2013 02:11 – Embark Holdings, Inc. (EMBK: OTC Link) released their Attorney Letter with Respect to Current Information. To read the complete report, please visit: https://www.otciq.com/otciq/ajax/showFinancialReportById.pdf?id=103711.
Former police officers who gave evidence to Lords on upcoming legislation worked for Common Sense Alliance, funded by BAT
A tobacco giant is under fire for financing a campaign group run by two former senior police officers who lobbied parliament against plain packaging for cigarettes without declaring their links to the company.
Peter Sheridan, who was assistant chief constable in Northern Ireland, and Roy Ramm, a former Scotland Yard commander, warned in a letter that plain packs would encourage tobacco smuggling and play into the hands of terrorists. Neither man acknowledged that he was involved in campaigning group the Common Sense Alliance. The alliance, which claims to represent “a growing community of like-minded people who question seemingly irrational and poorly evidenced regulation”, has been called an “astroturf” organisation – a lobbying vehicle created and funded by business interests including British American Tobacco (BAT), a brewery, a pork scratchings manufacturer and a live event company.
The influential letter from Sheridan and Ramm was quoted by peers and has played a key role in the debate around plain packaging. A government decision on the issue is expected imminently.
Parliamentary officials wrote to Sheridan and Ramm seeking clarification about their links to the tobacco industry after they submitted their evidence. Transparency guidelines stipulate that tobacco firms have to be clear about their involvement in tobacco lobbying.
Sheridan and Ramm insist the letter was written in a personal capacity, but it has emerged that it was sent via Goddard Global, a multinational lobbying firm that provides the secretariat for the alliance. A BAT spokesman confirmed it employed the lobbying firm.
“It beggars belief that Peter Sheridan and Roy Ramm can try to claim they were acting in a personal capacity when one is a director and the other a founder member of an organisation funded by BAT,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health. “This is a serious conflict of interest. The government has legal obligations to protect public health policy from commercial interests and it can only do this if the tobacco industry is transparent about its lobbying activities.”
Cigarette makers fear a UK ban will be copied in other countries, stripping them of their last marketing weapon. Now big tobacco’s extensive role in creating the alliance is under scrutiny. According to the campaign group, Tobacco Tactics, the CSA’s website domain was registered by a man called Basil Dutchak, a tobacco industry veteran, who runs a business that specialises in supporting cigarette brands.
The alliance is backed by the Live Management Group, which works with MAMA Brand Partnerships, which has promoted Rizla cigarette paper, an Imperial Tobacco brand.
A prominent supporter is Rory Sutherland, the Vice Chairman of The Ogilvy advertising and PR group that lists BAT as one of its largest clients.
Sheridan said neither he nor Ramm was paid by the tobacco industry and that his experience had taught him the need to consider how terrorists could exploit changes in the law. Their letter warns: “Any standardisation of pack appearance may make it more difficult to spot and track smuggled tobacco because the lack of distinguishing features make it more difficult to identify.”
Sheridan and Ramm explain that “groups such as the PKK, Islamic Jihad, Al‑Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas are widely known to finance their terrorist operations through selling counterfeit or non‑duty‑ paid tobacco.”
Their views about plain packaging increasing counterfeiting are not shared by serving police officers. In a letter to Sheridan, Terry Sweeney, assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester police, said: “All the evidence is that the current highly-branded packs are already extremely easy to copy and can be turned round very quickly.”
A BAT spokesman declined to say how much it was paying the alliance. He said: “We are happy to support those who believe the things we do and we have always been very clear that we support the Common Sense Alliance.”
Mon, Apr 08, 2013 07:08 – CleanPath Resources Corp. (CLNP: OTC Link) released their Attorney Letter with Respect to Current Information. To read the complete report, please visit: https://www.otciq.com/otciq/ajax/showFinancialReportById.pdf?id=102353.
HM Revenue & Customs cost callers £136m on phone calls and left 20m calls unanswered
HM Revenue & Customs has been criticised by MPs for costing callers £136m a year by not answering telephone inquiries, despite spending £900m on customer service. The Commons public accounts committee said HMRC had “an abysmal record”, but welcomed moves to introduce a call-back system and dispense with costly 0845 numbers.
According to the committee’s report, HMRC left 20m telephone calls unanswered last year and managed to reply to 66% of letters despite a target of responding to 80% of letters within 15 days.
Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said: “HMRC’s ‘customers’ have no choice over whether or not they deal with the department. It is therefore disgraceful to subject them to unacceptable levels of service when they try to contact the department by phone or letter.”
She said a new target of answering 80% of calls within five minutes was “woefully inadequate and unambitious” and warned that proposals to cut customer-facing staff by 8,500 posed a real risk to the department being able to improve standards.
“HMRC plans to cut the number of customer-facing staff by a third by 2015. At the same time, the stresses associated with introducing the real-time information system, universal credit and changes to child benefit are likely to drive up the number of phone calls to the department.”
Since the committee’s hearing on the HMRC, the department has announced the closure of its 281 inquiry centres, which is likely to put more pressure on phone lines. Hodge said: “It may need to put in additional resources … to avoid the kind of plummeting performance we have seen in the past.”
An HMRC spokesman said: “This report criticises a previous poor standard of service from which HMRC has already recovered. We are investing an extra £34m in our contact centres to maintain this industry-standard level of performance.”
Credo Mobile speaks out after judge orders US government to stop issuing ‘national security letters’ to access citizens’ data
The Californian telecoms company thought to be behind a stunning court victory that has blown a hole in the FBI’s highly secretive system for collecting US citizens’ private data has hailed the “significant” legal breakthrough.
Credo, based in San Francisco, spoke out after a federal judge ordered the US government to stop issuing what are called “national security letters” – demands for data that contain in-built gagging clauses that prevent the recipients disclosing even the existence of the orders or their own identity.
In a carefully worded release, the firm fell short of revealing itself as the instigator of the legal action that resulted in Friday’s development. But it is understood by the Guardian that the telecommunications firm was indeed the unnamed litigant behind the action.
Michael Kieschnick, chief executive of Credo Mobile, hailed the judge’s order as “the most significant court victory for our constitutional rights since the dark day when George W Bush signed the Patriot Act”.
It is extremely rare for a telecoms company to challenge the system of national security letters, or NSLs, which have mushroomed since 9/11 under the Patriot Act. Credo, a subsidiary of Working Assets Inc, that directs some of its profits to support civil liberties groups, has been a long-standing advocate for reform of the NSL.
It is believed to be the company behind a May 2011 lawsuit in which the FBI was sued for breach of its rights after the company was served with a federal demand for private data belonging to its customers. The FBI shot back by counter-suing the company.
The lawsuit was made anonymously, with the name of the company redacted from court papers made available to the media. But last July the Wall Street Journal conducted an analysis of the likely telecoms companies that could have brought the legal action, and concluded that the litigant was probably Credo.
In her ruling, Judge Susan Illston declared the NSLs unconstitutional as they breached the first amendment rights of the parties being served the orders.
Kieschnick said: “This decision is notable for its clarity and depth. From this day forward, the US government’s unconstitutional practice of using national security letters to obtain private information without court oversight and its denial of the first amendment rights of national security letter recipients have finally been stopped by our courts.”
NSLs have been an increasingly important part of the US government’s approach to counter-terrorism, though their growing use has been matched by mounting unease on the party of civil libertarians.
Last year the FBI sent out more than 16,000 of the letters relating to the private data – mainly financial, internet or phone records – of more than 7,000 Americans.
Previous court action has led to the FBI being accused of abusing its powers under the NSL statute by issuing the letters far more extensively than in the limited counter-terrorism situations for which they were devised.
The letters are among the most secretive tools of any deployed by the US state. The demand for data comes with a gagging order attached – meaning that the recipient of the NSL is not allowed even to discuss the letter in public.
As an additional affront, civil liberties groups say, the FBI is allowed to issue the letters without approval from a judge. Only the green light of a local FBI chief is required.
The judge’s order will not go into immediate effect as she built in a 90-day delay to allow the government to appeal. The telecoms company was represented in the case by the Electronics Frontier Foundation, a non-profit group that advocates for public rights in the digital world. In a statement, the EFF’s senior staff attorney Matt Zimmerman said the court order had exposed the constitutional shortcomings of the NSLs.
“The government’s gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience.”
The foundation’s legal director Cindy Cohn added that the judge had also highlighted the first amendment as a protection for the public against executive surveillance power. “The NSL statute has long been a concern of many Americans, and this small step should help restore balance between liberty and security.”
• This article has been amended since publication.
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