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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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Secret deals ‘plundering Africa’

Category : Business, World News

Africa loses twice as much money through tax avoidance, secret mining deals and financial transfers as it gets from donors, ex-UN chief Kofi Annan warns.

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Leaks reveal secrets of the rich who hide cash offshore

Category : Business

Exclusive: Offshore financial industry leak exposes identities of 1,000s of holders of anonymous wealth from around the world

Millions of internal records have leaked from Britain’s offshore financial industry, exposing for the first time the identities of thousands of holders of anonymous wealth from around the world, from presidents to plutocrats, the daughter of a notorious dictator and a British millionaire accused of concealing assets from his ex-wife.

The leak of 2m emails and other documents, mainly from the offshore haven of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), has the potential to cause a seismic shock worldwide to the booming offshore trade, with a former chief economist at McKinsey estimating that wealthy individuals may have as much as $32tn (£21tn) stashed in overseas havens.

In France, Jean-Jacques Augier, President François Hollande’s campaign co-treasurer and close friend, has been forced to publicly identify his Chinese business partner. It emerges as Hollande is mired in financial scandal because his former budget minister concealed a Swiss bank account for 20 years and repeatedly lied about it.

In Mongolia, the country’s former finance minister and deputy speaker of its parliament says he may have to resign from politics as a result of this investigation.

But the two can now be named for the first time because of their use of companies in offshore havens, particularly in the British Virgin Islands, where owners’ identities normally remain secret.

The names have been unearthed in a novel project by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists [ICIJ], in collaboration with the Guardian and other international media, who are jointly publishing their research results this week.

The naming project may be extremely damaging for confidence among the world’s wealthiest people, no longer certain that the size of their fortunes remains hidden from governments and from their neighbours.

BVI’s clients include Scot Young, a millionaire associate of deceased oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Dundee-born Young is in jail for contempt of court for concealing assets from his ex-wife.

Young’s lawyer, to whom he signed over power of attorney, appears to control interests in a BVI company that owns a potentially lucrative Moscow development with a value estimated at $100m.

Another is jailed fraudster Achilleas Kallakis. He used fake BVI companies to obtain a record-breaking £750m in property loans from reckless British and Irish banks.

As well as Britons hiding wealth offshore, an extraordinary array of government officials and rich families across the world are identified, from Canada, the US, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Iran, China, Thailand and former communist states.

The data seen by the Guardian shows that their secret companies are based mainly in the British Virgin Islands.

Sample offshore owners named in the leaked files include:

• Jean-Jacques Augier, François Hollande’s 2012 election campaign co-treasurer, launched a Caymans-based distributor in China with a 25% partner in a BVI company. Augier says his partner was Xi Shu, a Chinese businessman.

• Mongolia’s former finance minister. Bayartsogt Sangajav set up “Legend Plus Capital Ltd” with a Swiss bank account, while he served as finance minister of the impoverished state from 2008 to 2012. He says it was “a mistake” not to declare it, and says “I probably should consider resigning from my position”.

• The president of Azerbaijan and his family. A local construction magnate, Hassan Gozal, controls entities set up in the names of President Ilham Aliyev’s two daughters.

• The wife of Russia’s deputy prime minister. Olga Shuvalova’s husband, businessman and politician Igor Shuvalov, has denied allegations of wrongdoing about her offshore interests.

•A senator’s husband in Canada. Lawyer Tony Merchant deposited more than US$800,000 into an offshore trust.

He paid fees in cash and ordered written communication to be “kept to a minimum”.

• A dictator’s child in the Philippines: Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, a provincial governor, is the eldest daughter of former President Ferdinand Marcos, notorious for corruption.

• Spain’s wealthiest art collector, Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, a former beauty queen and widow of a Thyssen steel billionaire, who uses offshore entities to buy pictures.

• US: Offshore clients include Denise Rich, ex-wife of notorious oil trader Marc Rich, who was controversially pardoned by President Clinton on tax evasion charges. She put $144m into the Dry Trust, set up in the Cook Islands.

It is estimated that more than $20tn acquired by wealthy individuals could lie in offshore accounts. The UK-controlled BVI has been the most successful among the mushrooming secrecy havens that cater for them.

The Caribbean micro-state has incorporated more than a million such offshore entities since it began marketing itself worldwide in the 1980s. Owners’ true identities are never revealed.

Even the island’s official financial regulators normally have no idea who is behind them.

The British Foreign Office depends on the BVI’s company licensing revenue to subsidise this residual outpost of empire, while lawyers and accountants in the City of London benefit from a lucrative trade as intermediaries.

They claim the tax-free offshore companies provide legitimate privacy. Neil Smith, the financial secretary of the autonomous local administration in the BVI’s capital Tortola, told the Guardian it was very inaccurate to claim the island “harbours the ethically challenged”.

He said: “Our legislation provides a more hostile environment for illegality than most jurisdictions”.

Smith added that in “rare instances …where the BVI was implicated in illegal activity by association or otherwise, we responded swiftly and decisively”.

The Guardian and ICIJ’s Offshore Secrets series last year exposed how UK property empires have been built up by, among others, Russian oligarchs, fraudsters and tax avoiders, using BVI companies behind a screen of sham directors.

Such so-called “nominees”, Britons giving far-flung addresses on Nevis in the Caribbean, Dubai or the Seychelles, are simply renting out their names for the real owners to hide behind.

The whistleblowing group WikiLeaks caused a storm of controversy in 2010 when it was able to download almost two gigabytes of leaked US military and diplomatic files.

The new BVI data, by contrast, contains more than 200 gigabytes, covering more than a decade of financial information about the global transactions of BVI private incorporation agencies. It also includes data on their offshoots in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Cook Islands in the Pacific.

Spanish party denies slush fund

Category : World News

Spain’s ruling conservatives deny allegations that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and others benefited from secret party accounts.

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US indicts Swiss bankers in offshore tax case

Category : Business

Three men who worked for unnamed bank accused of conspiring with US clients to hide more than $420m, says attorney’s office

Three Swiss bankers accused of conspiring with US clients to hide more than $420m (£258.4m) from the tax-collecting US internal revenue service have been indicted, according to the US attorney’s office in Manhattan.

The indictment named Stephan Fellmann, Otto Huppi and Christof Reist, all former client advisers with an unnamed Swiss bank. None of the bankers have been arrested, authorities said. Their attorneys were not immediately known. The indictment said the unnamed bank did not have offices in the United States.

Banking secrecy is enshrined in Swiss law and tradition, but it has recently come under pressure as the United States and other nations have moved aggressively to tighten tax law enforcement and have demanded more openness and cooperation.

In April, two Swiss financial advisers were indicted in the US on charges of conspiring to help Americans hide $267m in secret bank accounts.

In January, prosecutors charged three Swiss bankers with conspiring with wealthy taxpayers to hide more than $1.2bn in assets from tax authorities.

UBS, the largest Swiss bank, in 2009 paid a $780mn fine as part of a settlement with US authorities who charged the bank with helping thousands of wealthy Americans to hide billions of dollars in assets in secret Swiss accounts.

Offshore secrets: government refuses to act on disclosures

Category : Business

UK Land Registry allows buyers to conceal identities by recording anonymous offshore entity as the purchaser

Offshore owners of British houses and office blocks are to continue to be allowed to conceal their identities, the business department has said. A spokesman said the coalition government wanted to “encourage foreign investment”.

The BIS department, headed by Vince Cable, has refused to act on disclosures by the Guardian’s Offshore Secrets series this week, that the price of housing is being driven up in London by thousands of secret buyers, some from controversial regimes. The UK Land Registry, part of BIS, allows buyers to conceal their identities by recording an anonymous British Virgin Islands offshore entity as the purchaser, often incorporated purely to disguise the true ownership.

A BIS spokesman said: “The UK encourages foreign investment and has no plans to stop overseas companies from registering as owners of property with the Land Registry.”

Cable has, though, ordered an inquiry into one aspect of the Guardian’s disclosures, that a small group of largely British sham directors are helping the offshore company owners conceal their identities by selling their names for use on legal documents. But he is refusing to order a halt to growing anonymity of Britain’s supposedly public land registry records.

The BIS statement said: “Our review will be looking at the legal framework and its enforcement as it applies to company directors, in order to tackle those who seek to abuse UK law. At present, it will not focus on the ability of offshore companies to purchase property in the UK.”

The present government’s predecessors, the Labour administration of Tony Blair, were also persuaded to reject recommendations for transparency made in a 2001 report by Treasury official Andrew Edwards. The Edwards report said: “If public policy emphasises privacy above transparency, the greatest beneficiaries are likely to be criminals.”

His report said a truthful land register would be “invaluable for law enforcement, regulatory and tax authorities”, would “deter the unscrupulous from putting the proceeds of crime into property assets” and would be “helpful in tracing bankrupt persons and combating mortgage fraud”.

This year campaigners Global Witness renewed the call for offshore ownerships to be revealed, saying the British secrecy system could conceal the looting of assets from countries in Africa and Asia. “Keeping information about who owns and controls companies secret makes life easy for the world’s criminals,” said campaigner Rosie Sharpe. “What’s needed are public registries of the true, beneficial owners of companies … the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills should ensure that UK companies cannot be abused by the world’s criminals.”

Revealed: the real identities behind Britain’s secret property deals

Category : Business

Latest part of investigation into offshore firms comes as government promises to investigate sham directors

The real identities behind British property deals previously cloaked in secrecy are revealed in the latest part of a major investigation into offshore firms, which prompted the government on Monday to promise that it would investigate any abuses revealed involving sham nominee directors.

Previously secret owners are identified in a sample of almost 60 UK homes and offices, ranging from multimillion-pound commercial premises in the heart of London to a small hotel in Southend, Essex.

They typify the 100,000 such purchasers who have set up offshore companies, largely registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), since 1999. The owners of BVI entities use them to hide their dealings in UK property and to take advantage of tax loopholes.

New disclosures about property ownership follow a pledge by Vince Cable, the business secretary, that his department would look at evidence of sham directors putting their names to thousands of anonymous offshore companies.

“We are not complacent or naive. We recognise there are individuals who will seek to abuse or evade,” he said. “We will investigate fully any specific allegations and ensure appropriate action is taken … If we identify a need for further action as a result of that review, we will not be afraid to take it.”

Cable was responding to a worldwide investigation into offshore abuses by the Guardian, the BBC’s Panorama programme and the US-based non-profit group, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism.

It is not illegal in Britain to use offshore companies to buy property or to exploit tax loopholes. Capital gains tax, inheritance tax or stamp duty on property purchases can often be avoided by offshore owners. The tax breaks open to offshore buyers have attracted a flood of foreign property money into Britain, particularly into central London. This has forced up the capital’s house prices in defiance of the recession, often to levels that are unaffordable for ordinary British residents. According to the estate agent Knight Frank, the price of prime residential property in London has increased by 49% since March 2009 – five times more than the UK as a whole.

But, until now, the full scale of this invasion has been hidden by the anonymity conferred on the owners of BVI companies. Britain’s land registry controversially allows offshore property owners to keep their true identities secret, despite its official status as a public record.

Owners identified by the Guardian on Monday include:

• Peter Vastardis, who used legal loopholes to sell a London flat to a Latvian businessman without paying stamp duty;

• Raheem Brennerman, a 29-year-old of Nigerian extraction, who borrowed £118m from the Royal Bank of Scotland;

• A Hertfordshire businessman, Lawrie Alderman, whose BVI entity bought London office premises;

• Sir Sam Jonah, former president of Ashanti Goldfields in Ghana, who bought a luxury flat near Regents Park

• Bruce Rockowitz, billionaire head of a Hong Kong garment firm, who used a Cook Island trust as well as a BVI company

• Bobby Wahi, who said he was a United Nations “goodwill ambassador” and acquired 42 properties around Skegness, Lincolnshire before going bust;

• Andreas Stavrinides, who owns care homes and the Skylark Hotel in Southend;

• Yoram Yossifoff, an Israeli lawyer who has acquired more than £1bn of UK property for himself and clients;

• A Rotherham builder, Keith Wilson, who set up two BVI companies to carry out a barn conversion.

The tax breaks open to offshore buyers have attracted a flood of foreign property money into Britain, particularly into central London. This has forced up the capital’s house prices in defiance of the recession, often to unaffordable levels for ordinary British residents. According to the estate agent Knight Frank, the price of prime residential property in London has increased by 49% since March 2009 – five times more than the UK as a whole.

But until now, the full scale of this invasion has been hidden by the anonymity conferred on the owners of BVI companies. Britain’s land registry controversially allows offshore property owners to keep their true identities secret, despite its official status as a public record. The Guardian has also uncovered instances of offshore owners failing to register the genuine price paid for luxury flats.

The Land Registry’s chief executive, Malcolm Dawson, said: “Our register records the legal owner of property, both residential and commercial, whether that is an individual or a company and regardless of whether that company has been registered in the UK or not.”

He said the Land Registry was to look into “our practice for capturing price paid” but had no evidence that it was being deliberately concealed.

Oracle pays $2m in SEC settlement

Category : Business, World News

Oracle Software agrees to pay $2m to settle federal civil charges of failing to prevent secret payments in its Indian sales operation.

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It’s official: Carlyle buys TCW Group

Category : Stocks

FORTUNE — The Carlyle Group (CG) today confirmed the poorly-kept secret that it is buying Los Angeles-based asset management firm TCW Group from Société Générale.

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Wealthy ‘hiding’ at least $21tn

Category : World News

A global super-rich elite has at least $21 trillion (£13tn) hidden in secret tax havens, according to a major study.

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Sub-Saharan Africa: capital flight, secret wealth and debt

Category : Business

The elites of many sub-Saharan African countries have accumulated so much secret offshore wealth it could pay off their countries’ external debts many times over, according to Tax Justice Network research

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