World News


Philippine anti-graft court orders seizure of Marcos paintings

Former first lady and Congresswoman Imelda Marcos (photo: AP)Manila - The Philippine anti-corruption court on Monday ordered the family of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos surrender eight paintings by famous European artists, declaring they had been illegally acquired with public funds.

The Philippines has estimated that Marcos, his family and cronies amassed more than $10 billion in cash, jewelry, assets, stocks and works of art during a 20-year rule. About half this amount has been recovered.

In a three-page court order, the sheriff's office was authorized to go after eight paintings by artists such as Michaelangelo, Pablo Picasso and Francisco de Goya.

Among the paintings were "Madonna and Child", "Femme Couchee VI" and "Portrait of the Marqueza de Sta. Cruz".

The court ordered searches of all known offices and residences of the former first lady and Congresswoman Imelda Marcos in Manila and Ilocos Norte in a bid to recover the works of art.

Imelda, 85, famous for her huge collection of designer shoes, has been charged with civil and criminal crimes, but has never been jailed despite evidence of massive wealth accumulated during her late husband's 1965-1986 rule.

She has denied that her family's wealth was ill-gotten.

Reuters         September 29, 2014

 
Spanish drug trafficker sentenced in Miami to 150 years in prison

 Spanish drug trafficker sentenced in Miami to 150 years in prison (photo: dupont.com)Miami - The Spanish head of a transatlantic cocaine-smuggling ring dubbed “Los Miami” was sentenced in federal court on Monday to 150 years in prison on charges of laundering more than $14 million through waterfront condos and exotic sports cars.

A jury convicted Álvaro López Tardón, 39, of more than a dozen money-laundering charges in June.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard also ordered $14 million in property forfeitures and a $2 million fine.

Prosecutors said Lopez Tardón was the head of an international narcotics trafficking and money-laundering syndicate that distributed 8 tons of South American cocaine in Madrid and laundered the proceeds in Miami.

The money was smuggled into Miami by couriers and wire transfers through Lopez Tardón’s exotic car dealership and other companies he controlled in Madrid, prosecutors added.

His trial included testimony from members of the Spanish National Police, a member of the Spanish national wiretapping agency and the Spanish tax authority.

At the time of his 2011 arrest, federal officials seized 17 luxury cars, including a 2008 Bugatti Veyron and a 2003 Ferrari Enzo, from López Tardón and four associates, including his brother, who is also indicted in the United States but is now in custody in Spain.

Federal officials confiscated more than a dozen condominiums and 26 bank accounts as part of the case.

López Tardón lived in a Miami Beach penthouse from 2001 to 2011 and made the bulk of his purchases through a shell company, according to court documents.

His empire began to crumble when officials in 2011 arrested a confidant alleged to be López Tardón’s personal Santeria priest, who was carrying more than 21,000 euros ($27,000) in a briefcase through Miami International Airport.

A former partner later admitted to hiding cocaine inside Peruvian pepper crates destined for Spain, and an ex-girlfriend confessed to funneling López Tardón’s cocaine money into Miami’s booming condominium market. Both pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2012.

López Tardón’s defense attorney, Howard Srebnick, argued the proceeds came from his family’s luxury car dealership and gourmet food shop in Madrid, and the defense offered wire transfer records as proof there was nothing to hide.

Reuters      September 29, 2014

 
Europe's police need data law changes to fight cybercrime - Europol

Europe's police need data law changes to fight cybercrime - Europol (photo: eunews)Law enforcers in Europe need greater powers to retain data for longer in order to catch cybercriminals selling discrete services that police cannot trace under existing regulations, according to a Europol report published on Monday.

Cybercrime is increasingly conducted by a highly specialised chain of software break-in experts, underground market-makers and buy-side fraudsters who convert stolen passwords and identities into financial gains. Criminals can keep data for months or even years before using it to defraud victims.

The study, entitled "The Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment" by the EU's criminal intelligence agency, says because laws limit how much data can be held and for how long, police cannot effectively trace and prosecute criminals.

Tougher laws for investigating and prosecuting cybercrime also need to be harmonised across the bloc, the report said.

"The majority of intelligence and evidence for cyber investigations comes from private industry. With no data retention, there can be no attribution and therefore no prosecutions," says Europol of criminals who often operate beyond EU borders in Eastern Europe and beyond.

Europol also says the pool of cyberfraudsters is growing.

"Entry barriers into cybercrime are being lowered, allowing those lacking technical expertise -- including traditional organised crime groups -- to venture into cybercrime by purchasing the skills and tools they lack," it said.

While providing no specific numbers, the agency says that the scale of financial losses due to online fraud has surpassed damages to payment from physical credit and other payment cards. Losses are huge, not just for card issuers but also for airlines, hotels and online retailers, the report states.

In other recommendations, it also warns about the abuse of anonymous virtual currency schemes such as bitcoin, pointing to a "considerable challenge in tracking such transactions or even identifying activities such as money laundering".

The agency highlights the role of anonymous, private networks, known as Darknets, in enabling a vast underground trade in drugs, weapons, stolen goods, stolen personal and payment card data, forged documents and child pornography.

Europol's report capitalises on a growing body of literature from academic and private sector cyber threat researchers that have traced the rise of such online criminal marketplaces trading in billions of personal financial details.

"THE FUTURE IS ALREADY HERE"

Cybercriminals are cashing in on the latest Internet trends such as Big Data, Cloud Computing and The Internet of Things, allowing them to rent massive computing power to analyse vast troves of data gathered from the ever-expanding range of connected devices in homes, cars and on consumers themselves.

For example, the report finds that "Big Data" predictive software is now used by criminals to identify the most lucrative targets for credit card fraud and to improve methods of tricking consumers into divulging more personal data for later attacks.

"The future is already here," the Europol study states.

The agency describes the rise of what it labels "Crime-as-a-Service", running illicit activities via a network of independent suppliers, mimicking parts of the "Software as a Service" playbook that drives top Web companies, including Salesforce, Amazon.com and Google.

Crime-as-a-Service offerings include:

  • Data as a service collects huge volumes of compromised financial data such as credit cards and bank account details and bundles it with standard personal ID info. Such specialisation allows the massive automation of both online and offline fraud.
  • Pay-per-install, another service, is a means of distributing malware to comprised computers, by country or demographic, expediting both online and offline fraud because it frees fraudsters from having to steal personal data themselves.
  • Translation services, in which native speakers are hired to convert phishing or spam attacks written in one language into convincing, grammatically correct scripts in other tongues.
  • Money laundering services act as bridges to cash out from digital or physical world financial systems, often using money mules as go-betweens.

Reuters    September 29, 2014

 
Cubans convicted along with Canadians in corruption case

Cy Tokmakjian, founder of the Tokmakjian Group (photo: City Life Magazine)Havana - Fourteen Cubans, including two high-ranking officials, were convicted and sentenced to jail terms ranging from 6 to 20 years in a corruption case that also condemned three Canadian executives, the Canadian company said on Sunday.

The case has come under deep skepticism from Western diplomats who have considered the evidence weak and say it threatens to scare off foreign investors at a time when Cuba is actively seeking business partners from abroad. It has also strained Cuba's relationship with Canada.

All 17 suspects who went on trial were convicted in a case that brought a host of charges including bribery, fraud, tax evasion, and falsifying bank documents surrounding the Tokmakjian Group.

The Concord, Ontario-based company had been doing business in Cuba for more than 20 years, mainly selling transportation, mining and construction equipment with annual sales of about $80 million a year.

The conviction of Canadian executive Cy Tokmakjian, founder of the Tokmakjian Group, and two others was reported on Saturday. Tokmakjian, 74, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and has already served three since his arrest.

His company called the case a "show trial" and a "travesty of justice."

Cuba also seized about $100 million worth of the Tokmakjian Group's assets.

Fellow Tokmakjian executives Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche were sentenced to 12 and 8 years each, respectively, said Lee Hacker, the company's spokesman and vice president for finance.

Hacker also provided the sentences for the Cuban suspects, who included Nelson Labrada, the former deputy minister of the defunct Sugar Ministry, sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Ernesto Gomez, former director of the state nickel company, Ferroniquel Minera S.A., received a 12-year sentence.

The Tokmakjian Group and the Cubans were caught up in an investigation of Cuba's international trading sector as part of a crackdown on corruption by President Raul Castro.

Cuba has been touting a new foreign investment law that took effect this year, part of an overt campaign to attract foreign direct investment that is crucially needed for development. The main feature of the law is to lower taxes. But many foreign companies have said they are more interested in the general business climate, transparency and the rule of law, especially in light of this case.

Reuters        September 28, 2014

 
China Watchdog Finds $10 Billion in Fake Currency Trade

Port of Qingdao (photo: sinoshipnews)China uncovered almost $10 billion in fraudulent trade nationwide as part of an investigation begun in April last year, including many irregularities in the port of Qingdao, the country’s currency regulator said today.

Companies “faked, forged and illegally re-used” documents for exports and imports, Wu Ruilin, a deputy head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange’s inspection department, said at a briefing in Beijing. The trades have “increased pressure from hot money inflows and provided an illegal channel for criminals to move funds,” Wu said, adding that those involved in such fraud would be severely punished.

“Some companies used the trade channel to bring in hot money,” said Zhou Hao, a Shanghai-based economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. SAFE’s investigation “will likely further cool down hot money inflows and commodity imports could slow as banks will likely conduct more careful checks on documentation.”

Industrial metals fell and the yuan weakened after the announcement. Copper slid as much as 0.5 percent and all main metals on the London Metal Exchange declined. Chinese banks have about 20 billion yuan ($3.3 billion) of exposure to companies caught up in a loan fraud probe in Qingdao, two government officials told Bloomberg in July.

SAFE identified the fake trade invoicing as part of a crackdown on the practice in 24 cities and provinces, Wu said. The news raised speculation that metals supplies may increase as stockpiles tied up in financing deals come back on the market.
Higher Rates

The People’s Bank of China has built up the world’s largest foreign-exchange reserves as it bought dollars to limit the yuan’s gains with the nation’s higher interest rates drawing inflows. China’s benchmark 10-year sovereign yield declined 51 basis points, or 0.51 percentage point, this year to 4.04 percent on Sept. 24. This compares with 2.56 percent for similar-maturity Treasuries.

After almost uninterrupted annual gains since 2005 that saw the yuan rise 33 percent versus the dollar, speculators had come to see China’s currency as a one-way trade, leaving the world’s second-largest economy vulnerable to a sudden shift in investor sentiment. The PBOC guided the currency 2.4 percent lower in the first half of this year to deter such bets. Yuan positions at Chinese financial institutions, which typically rise as the monetary authority sells yuan to limit gains, fell last month by 31.1 billion yuan.
Trade Surplus

The currency rose to 6.1283 per dollar on Sept. 10, the strongest level since March, days after the nation posted a record $49.84 billion trade excess for August. The yuan fell 0.13 percent to 6.1458 in offshore trading in Hong Kong today, while 12-month non-deliverable forwards dropped 0.2 percent to 6.2415. The spot rate in Shanghai lost 0.05 percent to 6.1375.

Inventories of copper in warehouses linked to exchanges such as the LME and Comex will rise over the next six months in part because of fewer financing deals in China, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a Sept. 23 report. Banks, trading companies and warehouse operators have been checking their exposure to metals stored at Qingdao and lenders have reigned in commodity financing this year.

Copper for delivery in three months fell as much as $31 to $6,711 a ton on the London Metal Exchange. Aluminum was down 0.4 percent at $1,966 a ton.

“Qingdao is not over,” said Chae Un Soo, a metals trader at Korea Exchange Bank Futures Co. The news will “definitely” impact demand for metals tied up in financing deals, he said.

Bloomberg, September 25, 2014

 
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