Archive for December, 2009

UBS whistleblower seeks prison postponement (Reuters)

Sunday, December 27th, 2009 | Finance News

MIAMI (Reuters) –
A key informant in the U.S. tax evasion case against Swiss bank UBS AG (UBSN.VX) (UBS.N) has asked a federal court in Florida to postpone the scheduled January 8 start of his prison term so that he can cooperate further with the U.S. government to uncover tax cheats.

Former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld, who was sentenced in August to three years and four months in prison for helping a billionaire hide assets from U.S. tax authorities, made the postponement request in a filing this weekend by his lawyer to a U.S. district court in Florida.

The filing also requested a hearing to reconsider the 4O-month sentence imposed on Birkenfeld, a U.S. citizen, by federal Judge William Zloch on August 21.

Birkenfeld's sentencing in August came two days after U.S. and Swiss authorities signed a pact in which Switzerland agreed to reveal the names of about 4,450 wealthy American clients of UBS to U.S. tax investigators.

Supporters of Birkenfeld and whistleblower advocates had criticized the sentence against as too harsh, saying his testimony was pivotal in helping prosecutors to uncover massive tax cheating by U.S. holders of undisclosed UBS accounts.

The critics said the informant's tougher-than-expected treatment would undermine future U.S. efforts to expose secretive offshore tax havens used by tax evaders.

"Since the August 21, 2009, sentencing hearing, Mr. Birkenfeld has been ready, willing and able to cooperate further with the Government" in helping bring cases against other UBS clients suspected of concealing assets from U.S. tax authorities, the filing by attorney David Meier said.

"Accordingly ... the defendant respectfully submits that the court should extend the date on which Mr. Birkenfeld is to self-report to the Bureau of Prisons (presently scheduled to be January 8, 2010), the document said.

The filing noted that despite the U.S. government's stated intention, expressed at the original sentencing hearing, to continue to use him in its investigations, it had "neither met with Mr. Birkenfeld, not asked him a single question" in the last four months.

The request said an extension of Birkenfeld's voluntary surrender was warranted to give him sufficient time to provide additional assistance to the government.

There was no immediate comment from prosecutors.

Government lawyers had said that by coming forward in the summer of 2007 and volunteering insider information to the Justice Department, Birkenfeld had exposed UBS practices that encouraged tax fraud by U.S. citizens.

The Swiss bank earlier in the year settled criminal charges by paying $780 million, and then promising to name thousands of suspected American tax cheats and exit the U.S. tax-shelter business.

Birkenfeld had pleaded guilty to a single fraud conspiracy count in June 2008 for helping a billionaire client hide assets from the Internal Revenue Service.

Justice Department officials, in a claim disputed by Birkenfeld's supporters, said he received a prison sentence instead of probation because he had initially sought to conceal his personal involvement in tax fraud.

(Editing by Leslie Adler)


Ferrero still mulling Cadbury bid (Reuters)

Sunday, December 27th, 2009 | Finance News

MILAN (Reuters) –
Italian chocolate giant Ferrero is still examining its options on a possible bid for Britain's Cadbury PLC (CBRY.L).

The UK confectioner has rejected a $16.2 billion offer from U.S. food group Kraft (KFT.N). U.S.-based Hershey Co (HSY.N) and the unlisted family-owned Ferrero have said they were contemplating bids.

Ferrero remains interested in Cadbury, La Stampa newspaper said on Sunday, quoting the Italian firm.

"Things are exactly as they were a month ago. Nothing has changed," a Ferrero spokesman told Reuters, declining to comment further.

In November, Ferrero said it was in the preliminary stages of evaluating options in respect of Cadbury.

La Stampa said Ferrero's interest in Cadbury had cooled. The spokesman said this contention was not based on anything the company has said.

Ferrero, based near the north west Italian city of Turin, is best known for its Nutella spread and Tic-Tac sweets.

The spokesman confirmed financial results provided to Italian news agency Ansa on December 24 on Ferrero's Italian unit Ferrero SpA, showing a 30 percent rise in operating profit in the year to the end of August.

Operating profit was 195.3 million euros while annual sales were 2.252 billion euros, little changed from the previous year.

The Italian unit represents about one third of Ferrero's worldwide sales, which in the year to August 2008 were 6.2 billion euros, according to its website..

(Writing by Nigel Tutt; editing by John Stonestreet)


South Korea wins landmark Gulf nuclear power deal (Reuters)

Sunday, December 27th, 2009 | Finance News

A South Korean group won a landmark deal to build and operate four nuclear reactors for the United Arab Emirates, beating more favored U.S. and French rivals to one of the Middle East's biggest ever energy contracts.

Under the $40 billion deal announced on Sunday, which Seoul said it hoped would kick-start an export drive for its nuclear technology, the first nuclear plant in the Gulf Arab region is scheduled to start supplying power to the UAE grid in 2017.

In stark contrast to the development program launched by northern Gulf neighbor Iran, the UAE's nuclear ambitions carry the blessing of its ally the United States.

A consortium led by state-owned utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) aims to complete the UAE's four 1,400 megawatt reactors by 2020.

The South Korean president's office described the deal as "the largest mega-project in Korean history," while KEPCO said it was also it was in talks with Turkey to export two nuclear power reactors to Black Sea areas.

The U.S. and the UAE have a nuclear cooperation pact and U.S.-based firm Westinghouse Electric, a unit of Japan's Toshiba Corp, was part of the winning consortium.

It also includes Hyundai Engineering and Construction, Samsung C&T Corp and Doosan Heavy Industries. The UAE has pledged to import the fuel it needs for reactors -- rather than attempting to enrich uranium, the fuel for nuclear power plants -- to allay fears about enrichment facilities being used to make weapons-grade material.

Iran has long been at odds with the West over its declared plans to use enriched uranium to generate electricity, a program the United States and European allies fear is a cover to develop the ability to produce atomic bombs.

South Korea hopes to use nascent nuclear programs in the Middle East, which include developments in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as a springboard for expanding its nuclear industry, though the projects have fueled concerns within the international community over a regional arms race.

"We are now expecting much bigger opportunities in entering overseas markets as winning the UAE nuclear deal will play a role of convincing those countries in the Middle East and other regions which are thinking of importing nuclear power reactors," KEPCO said in a statement.


The UAE, the world's third-largest oil exporter, needs the nuclear power to help meet an expected rise in electricity demand to 40,000 MW in 2020 from around 15,000 MW last year, amid a petrodollar-fueled economic boom.

South Korea said it also hopes to build more plants in the UAE beyond 2020 to meet future demand.

"Considering the growth estimates in the UAE's power demand, South Korea expects to win additional projects to build nuclear power reactors in addition to this contract for four reactors," it said.

The South Korean group beat a French consortium and another group led by U.S. giant General Electric. The $20 billion Korean bid was $16 billion lower than the French group's bid, an industry source said.

In addition to the deal to design and build the plants, the Korean consortium expects to earn another $20 billion by jointly operating the reactors for 60 years.


The choice of South Korea surprised some analysts, who had expected the deal to go to one of the other consortiums for strategic reasons.

"The UAE's choice must have been based on strictly commercial terms because in terms of political clout in the region it's nil," said Al Troner, president of Houston-based Asia Pacific Energy Consulting.

"Korea has a good track record in terms of safety and price and it's a surprise to see the U.S. and France are not part of the bid because they are the ones with the more political strength in the Middle East."

The emirate of Abu Dhabi, which is driving the UAE nuclear program, holds most of the UAE's crude reserves, and has managed to avoid the worst of the global economic slowdown as well as the debt crisis that has hit neighboring Dubai.

Dubai's debt crisis had cast a shadow over financing prospects for other Gulf borrowers but analysts expect blue-chip names like Abu Dhabi and Qatar to weather the fallout.

"These are long-term projects and many of the finance providers will look beyond what is happening today," said John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi-Credit Agricole Group in Riyadh. "The UAE's nuclear program is a strategic project."

He said the UAE could issue bonds in future to fund the project, in addition to the usual mix of project financing methods such as export agencies and banks.

"I think by the time they do this (issue bonds), the Dubai storm will be over, plus Abu Dhabi would have a substantial windfall from oil revenues," he said..

(Additional reporting by Martin Dokoupil in Dubai)

(Writing by Simon Webb; editing by John Stonestreet)