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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to 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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Death, sanctions and big business in the struggle for Zimbabwe’s diamonds

Category : Business

As sanctions against Harare come under review, MPs call for a FTSE 100 company to be investigation for its involvement in the strife-torn Marange diamond region

Back in late October 2008, up to 30,000 ordinary Zimbabweans had spread across the country’s diamond fields. They had flocked east in the hope of unearthing gems to ease the hardship of the financial crisis – but however savage the economy might have felt at the time, their situation was about to become more brutal.

Infantry, estimated to be 1,500 strong, supported by helicopters, descended on the area. As the freelance miners ran, soldiers and paramilitary police began firing AK-47s directly at those fleeing. More than 200 people in Chiadzwa, a previously peaceful but impoverished part of the Marange diamond zone, are thought to have been massacred.

The purpose of the assault, campaigners say, was to clear the diamond fields and hand control to the military. The WikiLeaks cables record James

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America’s watchdogs scare Britain’s bad companies. The Financial Services Authority must learn to bite like them

Category : Business

While the British regulator’s warnings over ringfenced assets and money laundering go unheeded, US agencies have hit FTSE 100 companies with more than £6bn in fines

The FTSE 100 index looks to be ending the year with gains of about 7%, but it has been an annus horribilis for Britain’s top companies in America. And the catalogue of misdeeds for which the UK’s top firms have been brought to book makes for shocking reading.

Four FTSE 100 companies alone agreed to record fines and settlements with US civil and criminal authorities totalling $10.4bn, or £6.4bn, in 2012. That is the equivalent of 40% of the construction cost of Crossrail, and more than two-thirds of the £9bn ministers say was the taxpayer’s bill for the London Olympics.

The picture started to sour in June, when Barclays was forced to pay $360m to settle probes in the US into the manipulation of Libor. A month later, GlaxoSmithKline announced it had been fined $3bn by the Food and Drug Administration for a string of abuses, including selling antidepressants for unapproved uses on children and offering inappropriately lavish hospitality to doctors willing to promote the company’s medicines.

Then last month BP received a $4.5bn penalty for criminal damage and regulatory failings for its part in the fatal explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Finally, last week, it was the turn of HSBC, fined $1.9bn for a “blatant failure” to implement money-laundering controls and for flouting sanctions. These penalties echoed two settlements, also during 2012, totalling $667m agreed by Standard Chartered over breaches in sanction laws and other failings.

So can we now draw a line under all this and move on in 2013? Not likely. The market is already braced for Royal Bank of Scotland to be hit with a telephone-number-sized fine from the US regulator if, as expected, it too is found to have played a role in the alleged Libor-fixing scandal.

Meanwhile, we learned this month that the US authorities may even have Rolls-Royce – until now a paragon of good corporate citizenship – in its sights. American investigators are tracking early-stage inquiries by the Serious Fraud Office into alleged bribes paid by intermediaries for the aircraft engine manufacturer in Indonesia, China and elsewhere.

In many cases US investigators can, and do, co-operate with parallel agencies in Britain. But the contrast in outcomes is stark. When, for example, Barclays agreed a $200m civil penalty as well as a $160m US justice department settlement over Libor, the bank at the same time announced that a lesser deal in the UK would see it pay just £59.5m ($96m) to the Financial Services Authority.

For the FSA, this counted as a triumph – the largest fine it had ever imposed. But to many outside Canary Wharf, it still looked feeble by comparison with penalties elsewhere.

To be fair, the regulator has gone some way to toughening up its approach to financial sanctions, announcing guidelines two years ago which it promised “could see enforcement fines treble in size”. The first of these tougher tariffs was imposed last month on UBS, obliging it to pay £29.7m for a failure to limit or detect the activities of rogue trader Kweku Adoboli.

However, many signs still suggest that penalties at this level do not truly worry directors or shareholders at Britain’s largest businesses, and cannot be said to act as a deterrent. This year, the overall value of fines imposed by the FSA on companies found to have fallen short of required standards more than doubled – but have still only reached £140m.

The biggest repeat offender, with four fines totalling £70m in less than three years, was Barclays. And one can only hope the surprise recruitment of former FSA chief executive Hector Sants as its head of compliance can improve the bank’s track record here.

A hint at the alarming nonchalance shown by many firms in the face of FSA scrutiny came as the regulator – soon to evolve into part of the Financial Conduct Authority – sought to address several investment banks’ failure to properly ringfence billions of pounds of assets held for hedge fund clients.

This issue has become a top priority in recent years: the failures of Lehman Brothers and MF Global led to pandemonium as creditors and clients fought over assets. But even in the wake of such chaos, the response from several banks to entreaties from the FSA to get their houses in order was worryingly sluggish.

The same insouciance was on display when it came to the FSA’s anti-money-laundering initiatives last year. The regulator warned that many banks, large and small, were repeatedly ignoring the rulebook – though it refused to name and shame them.

“It is not a pretty picture,” said Tracey McDermott, then acting head of financial crime. “The banks are just not taking the rules seriously enough.” If only they had been listening. Or if only the FSA had shouted louder, and got tougher.

The music – and the profit – fades for HMV

When Band Aid released Do They Know it’s Christmas? in 1984, music fans dashed to Woolies, Our Price or HMV to get their hands on a copy. The song has been covered twice since, but it’s fair to say that, should there be a third act, purchasers are more likely to buy the song with one click on iTunes than trek to their local music store – if it still exists.

Indeed, the cause for which we need to rattle the tin is HMV itself, which is again in a precarious position after sales of CDs, DVDs and games slumped over the summer. On Thursday, new chief executive Trevor Moore, on his maiden outing for the retailer’s half-year results, dropped the bombshell that there were “material uncertainties facing the business” and that it was on course to breach banking covenants early in the new year.

Moore says he has ideas, but his options are limited: his predecessor, Simon Fox, sold almost everything HMV had, including bookseller Waterstones and the live music venues that were supposed to be the group’s saviour. The sell-off did not even put a dent in HMV’s debt pile which stands at £176m, compared with its lowly stock market value of around £10m.

A supplier-backed bailout brokered in January, which saw Universal Music, EMI, Warner Brothers and Disney accept a small equity stake in return for better commercial terms, was supposed to have put the retailer on a solid footing. The music moguls and film studios, whose profit margins are under siege from Amazon, need HMV to survive more than its battle-weary investors. But retailers are supposed to serve customers, and the latest data from HMV’s core markets suggests shoppers are buying its wares with less frequency. In the six months to the end of October, music and games sales by value were down by nearly a quarter; DVD sales slid 16%.

The people who hold the power at HMV – its banks and suppliers – have shown restraint in recent years, but with the coffers full after the Christmas trading peak they might decide it’s time to stop the music.

Standard Chartered and the game of cat-and-mouse over Iran sanctions | Ian Barclay

Category : Business

Iran has cheap oil and sophisticated sanctions evasion tactics. There will always be parties who choose to trade with them

As this week’s money-laundering allegations against Standard Chartered bank show, Iran is feeling the pressure of heightened sanctions and is exploring all options to circumvent them.

Though the claims relate to the period 2001-7, since the start of this year co-ordinated sanctions by the EU as well as the US have tightened the noose on Tehran by blocking access to the key financial and insurance markets of Europe. Iran is slowly being excluded from large parts of the global financial system, unable to sell its oil and fast running out of space to store it.

Living with sanctions is not new to Iran, nor are many of the methods it has used to evade them. But all its counter-efforts have locked western sanctions enforcement agencies in a game of cat-and-mouse aimed at exposing anyone trying to access the financial system to launder funds or hide transactions.

And Iran’s tactics are often sophisticated. Over the past year, the regime has launched a diplomatic offensive focused on developing economies, which are desperate for cheap fuel, and it has offered them huge discounts on oil. Some countries have found ways to trade or evade by negotiating barter deals involving grain or consumer goods in exchange for oil.

In addition, tankers carrying Iranian oil are alleged to have switched off their automatic identification systems used to track their locations, and Iranian shipping firms are known to have frequently changed the name, owners, and flag state of vessels – even allegedly to have repainted tankers. The lack of transparency in the shipping industry makes detection of offenders more difficult, and Iran has historically been successful in staying ahead of US and European efforts to track and blacklist them.

Iranian corporations, directed by their government, have long used offshore companies, which have limited or no ownership disclosure requirements, to trade or try to enter the financial system. In 2010, with the help of US pressure group Iran Watch, the New York Times exposed a web of companies being used by the Iranian state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. Its network of interlinked companies was registered in financial centres such as Hong Kong and Isle of Man, and in some cases had British directors. This level of sophistication should not come as a surprise when Iran has been subject to US asset freezes since 1979 and more widespread sanctions since 1984, during its war with Iraq.

As modern sanctions have become more targeted and focused on isolating Iran from the global financial system, limiting its ability to earn foreign currency through sales of oil and gas, so too have the methods used to undermine them. Some anti-money-laundering specialists have been forced to run background checks on their students to ensure they are not trying to discover weaknesses in the system. And there are fears among oil traders that Iranian oil is being mixed with non-Iranian supplies.

There will always be countries and companies who will choose to trade with Iran, regarding sanctions as western or US-inspired measures that are unenforceable against them. As a result, major western companies doing business in Asia, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union are becoming increasingly wary of clients who may be discreetly trading with businesses in Iran. While the headlines are focused on allegations against Standard Chartered, today’s major sanction-busting deals are being done by firms that are not household names. Last week’s blacklisting by the US treasury of Bank of Kunlun Co, part of the Chinese state-owned China National Petroleum Corp, and the Elaf Islamic Bank of Iraq for “knowingly facilitating significant transactions and providing significant financial services for designated Iranian banks” was not so widely reported.

These types of transactions are indicative of the trend of a continued appetite by many to evade sanctions. Whether Standard Chartered is guilty or not, the US regulator’s action shows that it is quickly losing patience with any foreign firm, British or Chinese, which attempts to have illicit dealings with Iran.

Iran sanctions will halve oil sales but may still not succeed

Category : Business

Embargo has led to huge increases in price of staple foods, while currency has lost half its value since 2010

The EU’s oil embargo comes into full effect on Sunday, marking a dramatic escalation in the pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme. But while the sanctions are biting deeper into Iranians’ lives with each passing day, it is less clear whether they will alter the minds of the Tehran leadership.

The 1 July deadline for the European embargo is coordinated with other measures around the world. This Thursday the latest tranche of US sanctions come into effect, imposing punitive measures on countries doing oil deals with Iran’s central bank. Next week, South Korea, Iran’s fourth biggest oil customer, will stop buying its crude oil, in response to a European ban on shipping insurance for tankers carrying Iranian oil, which also comes into force on Sunday.

Until recently Iran has attempted to shrug off the tightening noose, insisting it could always find other markets. But on Wednesday an Iranian official admitted that oil exports had dropped 20% to 30% from normal levels of 2.2m barrels a day. The official claimed the shortfall was due to scheduled maintenance of oil wells, but the accelerating decline in sales has become impossible to hide.

Europe represented a fifth of the global market for Iranian oil, and the insurance ban has spread the embargo much further afield.

In the run-up to the Sunday deadline, as one country after another stopped purchases, Iran is thought to have lost 600,000 to 800,000 barrels a day in sales. By 1 July the lost sales will amount to over a million barrels a day, a drop of 50%.

Combined with a recent dip in the oil price, the shortfall in Iranian hard currency revenues is severe, and could have long-lasting damaging effects on its production capacity.

“It is running out places to store what it can’t sell. It has tankers at sea full of oil, being used as storage, but after that Iran will have to stop pumping. It will have to decommission oil wells. That is bad news for wells – it’s not straightforward to get them going again,” a western official said.

The official noted that Iran took part in three rounds of international talks over its nuclear programme this year, after insisting throughout 2011 that the programme was non-negotiable.

But Iran took a tough position at the latest round of talks, last week in Moscow. Other nations also held firm and the talks were downgraded from high-level negotiations among senior diplomats to a technical meeting among experts, due next Tuesday in Istanbul.

“I think sanctions have brought Iran to the table but I don’t think they can do all the heavy lifting at the table,” said Shashank Joshi, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, in London, who is writing a policy paper on the Iranian nuclear challenge.

Critics of western policy argue that sanctions relief should have been on offer to Iran at the Moscow talks. They say the embargo will deepen Tehran’s distrust but lack the power to force a change of policy on uranium enrichment – a process that Iran insists is for peaceful purposes, and is its sovereign right.

The UN security council wants enrichment stopped until Iran can demonstrate it is not intending to use it to make nuclear weapons.

“The current sanction regime, while unprecedented in scope and scale, is biting the Iranian economy but is far from crippling it,” said Ali Vaez, of

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Government U-turn on work scheme

Category : Business

Rules on work experience changed after threats from major employers

The government abandoned a central plank of its work experience scheme on Wednesday when it was forced to bow to pressure from businesses to drop benefit sanctions against young people on the programme.

Amid threats from some of Britain’s largest employers that they would withdraw from the scheme, which has been criticised for exploiting young people, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that participants would now keep their benefits even if they left a placement.

The announcement by Chris Grayling, the employment minister, came after business leaders raised concerns that involvement in the voluntary work experience scheme was damaging their reputations.

Participants in the scheme, which offers 16- to 24-year-olds eight weeks of work experience, receive their benefits while on the scheme. Until the government’s change of heart, they would have lost two weeks’ jobseeker’s allowance if they withdrew after a week.

In a statement issued by the DWP, which announced that Airbus, Center Parcs and HP Enterprise Services were joining the scheme, Grayling claimed the “sanction regime” would remain in place, because participants would lose their benefits if they were guilty of gross misconduct.

Grayling had earlier acknowledged the change, but later issued the carefully worded statement amid unease from Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, over dropping the sanctions.

News of the change was conveyed by Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of Barnardo’s, one of those who attended a 90-minute meeting with Grayling to discuss the scheme.

She told Channel 4 News: “Two things that have come out of it are really important. One is the removal of sanctions for anyone at any time if they leave this voluntary work experience scheme, to make sure we understand it is completely voluntary.

“The second thing that Barnardo’s proposed is that we produce a young person’s guide to work experience, so they understand what is expected of them.”

Grayling acknowledged that the sanctions had been withdrawn. He said: “The employers said to us: ‘Look we would like to modify it. At the moment you’ve got a situation where people can leave voluntarily after the first week. We would like them to be able to sit down later with us in the work placement if it is not working out and say we want to opt out.’ We thought that was reasonable. We want to keep the scheme going. It is a positive scheme for young people and so we said fine, we will accept that.”

The government’s change of heart, which follows a series of investigations by the Guardian into the work placements, came shortly after David Cameron denounced as “Trotskyites” some of those campaigning against the scheme.

“It is time for businesses in Britain, and everyone in Britain who wants to see people have work experience, to stand up against the Trotskyites of the Right to Work campaign, and perhaps recognise the deafening silence there has been from the Labour party,” he told MPs.

However, the prime minister was forced to announce a review of Whitehall procedures over the appointment of Emma Harrison, the former chair of A4e, as his troubled families tsar. Some employees of her company, which finds work for the long-term unemployed in the separate Work Programme, were subject to a fraud investigation before her appointment. There is no suggestion that Harrison did anything wrong.

“I am concerned that subsequent to Emma Harrison’s appointment, information needed to be passed up the line to ministers more rapidly,” he said, announcing that the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, would review Whitehall guidelines.

His move came hours before the government’s flagship welfare reform bill passed all its stages in parliament after a bumpy ride in the House of Lords.

The bill will introduce a blanket £26,000 cap on household welfare benefits and lead to the introduction of Duncan Smith’s universal credit, which wraps most benefits into one payment.

The prime minister said: “Past governments have talked about reform, while watching the benefits bill sky rocket and generations languish on the dole and dependency. This government is delivering it. Our new law will mark the end of the culture that said a life on benefits was an acceptable alternative to work.”

Grayling amended the rules for the voluntary work scheme, which falls outside the new bill, after business leaders expressed their frustration to him in their 90 minute meeting.

One executive, who was present but asked to remain nameless, said: “They were not angry with Grayling himself, but they were very concerned that they had been trying to do ‘the right thing’ for unemployed youngsters and yet it had turned into bad publicity. The protests were threatening to damage the reputations of their businesses and undermine morale among their existing staff through accusations that working for some employers was ‘not a real job’.”

Some of the large supermarkets were particularly vociferous, added the executive, who said there was a feeling that the debate had been lost by the DWP to protesters in the media. “Most people at the meeting told Grayling they supported the general scheme and said their local managers got positive feedback from the youngsters, but they made clear the government had to make changes to it or they would be forced to pull out.”

Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said: “We welcome the government’s climbdown on the use of sanctions in work experience. Of course proper work experience can be useful and helpful for many young people, but it needs to be designed to help the young person, not provide free labour for employers or displace paid staff. Making absolutely clear that it is voluntary at all times will help safeguard against abuse.”

Grayling denied he had caved in to the “Trotskyists”, saying: “The real argument of the Trotskyist is that unpaid work experience is wrong, and is denying people the right to work; they are wrong.” Grayling pointed out that only 220 participants in the scheme had had their benefits withdrawn. This sanction was at the discretion of jobcentre staff.

Critics of Grayling and the DWP will say that they should have acted earlier to get rid of any accusation that the scheme amounted to “workfare”, since he has been under pressure from employers for more than a week on the issue.

Mark Dunk, from the Right to Work campaign, said: “The dropping of sanctions for the work-experience scam is one battle won, but the wider fight goes on. Forced unpaid work still continues in the form of the mandatory work activity and community activity programme. We demand that the government immediately drops not just one of its forced labour schemes [but] all of them.

“There should not be any young person anywhere forced to work for no pay. Everyone on any training scheme should receive minimum wage or above. We demand real jobs now for all.”

Katja Hall, the CBI’s chief policy director, said: “It’s good to hear that many more employers are signing up to give young people a chance to get experience of work.”

“Gaining hands-on experience of the workplace is vital to giving young jobseekers a foot in the door, and it can make such a difference when they are applying for interviews. The advantage of this scheme is that they gain work experience while remaining on benefits.”

Iran-Sanctions Bid Targets Oil, Tanker Companies’ Sales

Category : Business

A U.S. proposal to sanction Iran’s state-owned oil company and its main tanker fleet may ensnare any person or business in the world involved in purchasing or shipping Iranian oil.

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