Wealth International, Limited

Offshore News Digest for Week of April 21, 2003


Parliament voted to curtail the level of secrecy afforded owners of companies incorporated in this offshore finance center. The new law requires companies to reveal the identities of their directors and shareholders, although the information would be available only to regulators and law enforcement officials.

Previously shell companies also were able to issue bearer shares, which give corporate ownership to whoever holds them. There is no record of how many have issued bearer shares in the past. The legislation should please international groups like the OECD, which have pressured offshore finance centers to increase transparency.

More on this story here.


NEW BRITAIN, Connecticut: Stanley Works, the largest U.S. maker of hand tools, will fire 1,000 workers and close plants and warehouses after first-quarter profit fell. The company's shares dropped as much as 12%. The job cuts, which will shrink the workforce by about 6.7%, and closings will cost about $60 million before taxes this year, the company said in a statement.

Stanley has been cutting expenses after failing to change its legal address to Bermuda to save on taxes. Stanley last year abandoned attempts to change its legal address to Bermuda to save $30 million a year in taxes after the company’s labor unions and Connecticut’s attorney general moved to block it. CEO John Trani had said the move was needed to help the company compete with foreign rivals and other U.S. toolmakers such as Cooper Industries Ltd. that have reincorporated outside the U.S.

More on this story here.

A political argument is brewing in the US House of Representatives which might illustrate how offshore jurisdictions like Bermuda are not necessarily unpatriotic, but on the contrary have in the past played a role in supporting the US manufacturing base. In an ironic turn of events, the US is being criticised by the World Trade Organisation and the EU for illegal export subsidies. In simple terms, the US has employed a system for the past 20 years which allowed corporations to avoid paying corporation tax on income from US manufactured goods which are being sent overseas.

This “extraterritorial income exclusion” (ETI) is now threatened by the WTO, which has authorized the European Union to impose up to $4 billion in retaliatory tariffs on the US unless the ETI subsidy is removed. If the ETI subsidies are cut without an offsetting measure, an obvious consequence might be that companies who have previously had large manufacturing operations in the US but benefitted from export tax conditions in their favour, may find it tempting to cut those US jobs and move manufacturing overseas to cheaper labour sources.

More on this story here.


Unreasonably high telecommunications cost, particularly voice, and an ineffective cellular service hinder this growth, CEO and executive director of Bahamas Financial Services Board Wendy Warren said at an investment funds seminar.

More on this story here.


PARIS: A chapter of France’s recent history is on trial in the Palace of Justice these days, unfolding like a Zola epic, with wealth, privilege, careerism and corruption. On some days dozens of people line up at the courtroom door vying for a seat in the biggest corruption case in recent memory here. Millions more catch glimpses of the proceedings on the evening news.

The trial of a handful of executives of Elf Aquitaine, the government-owned oil giant that has since been privatized and is now part of TotalFinaElf, has wandered into its fifth week, chronicling shady dealings that stretch from the halls of power in Paris through bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein to former French colonies. “Obviously, Elf was used by French governments and foreign governments as a cover,” said Ben Lechardoy, 67, a retired oil industry employee who came to watch a session.

This trial will not include any of France’s political leaders over the last two decades, thanks to a French variety of omertà by which the executives have protected their political cronies.

More on this story here.


The race is on to find Iraq’s missing billions before the former regime can use them for their own ends. A US-UK task force is currently being put together that will have one aim: locate and deliver evidence on where Saddam’s assets have been hidden. Even before the first bombs were dropped on Baghdad, US Treasury Secretary John Snow said: “The world must find, freeze and return Iraqi money to the Iraqi people.” Experts believe the missing money is likely to amount to more than $20 billion.

One analyst in London, who worked on uncovering missing cash involving the failed BCCI bank in 1991, said: “It will take a decade at least to locate even half of the Saddam regime money. It could take specific UN resolutions and orders to get some private banks, say in Switzerland, to comply on disclosures. Offshore deposits in safe havens provide the same problem: they are not called ‘safe havens’ for nothing. A recent report on the progress made in locating money following the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines 18 years ago identified a number of Swiss banks still holding Marcos money.”

A further complication involves Iraqi deposits in countries that are not signatories to international agreements on financial disclosure, such as the safe-haven banking zone inside Malaysia.

More on this story here.


Thousands of US businesspeople who have canceled travel to Asia. Major retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target are holding off on buying trips, which may eventually mean a scramble to get products from other parts of the world. Investment bankers are postponing trips that would have helped companies raise capital. The scare is even spreading to US Chinatowns, where some Americans are reluctant to go for won-ton soup and fried rice.

Economically, much is at stake. For the first 11 months of 2002, the US sold $20 billion worth of goods to China, which exported $121 billion back to the US. Some industries have become extremely reliant on China as a supplier. For example, the US footwear industry makes 75% of its products there.

SARS is causing the worst economic crisis in Southeast Asia since the wave of bank failures and currency devaluations that swept the region five years ago. The economies of Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have not just abruptly stopped growing but have begun shrinking, the economies of Malaysia and Thailand are probably next and even China’s booming industrial expansion is beginning to slow, said Andy Xie, an economist with Morgan Stanley.

With fewer than 5,000 actual cases of SARS reported worldwide, manufacturing companies are so far experiencing little or no disruption at their factories but face thinning order books as buyers stop attending trade fairs and other commercial events.

More on this story here and here.


Someday, hopefully, April 15th will no longer be Tax Day (the day your U.S. income tax return must be filed) but instead will be known as Freedom Day -- a day to remember the huge, expensive, intrusive, and meddling government that was once was and that we should be on guard against forever.

That can come only after we repeal the income tax and reduce the federal government to a size that can subsist on just the tariffs and excise taxes already being collected. No flat tax, no “fair” tax, no replacement tax of any kind -- because government has been made so small an income tax is no longer needed to finance it.


Not at all.

More on this story here.


MIAMI: Kroll was long known -- though not exactly famous -- for being a top-tier security company. Its goal often was protecting executives and buildings. But following 9/11, the notion of national security has morphed to include terrorist financing, investigation of corrupt foreign officials and money laundering networks. Kroll -- and particularly Kroll’s Miami office -- finds itself at the forefront of front-burner security issues for both the nation and the world.

In 2002, Kroll’s company revenue shot up 39%, to $289 million. This year, it expects sales to leapfrog again, to $410 million.

“I have to say, money laundering prevention” is one of the leading catalysts for growth, said Bruce Goslin, who heads the Brickell Avenue office. “Other areas are business intelligence and investigations, where businesses are interested in learning more about mergers and partnerships they might be considering entering into. Latin companies are becoming more global, multinational.”

More on this story here.


The governor of the Afghan Central Bank of Afghanistan,Anwar ul-Haq Ahady, has said that currency stability is returning to Afghanistan after the replacement of two rival versions of the afghani with a single, unified national currency and a re-definition of the currency of one thousand old afghani to one new afghani.

Anwar thinks that the new, regulated and (compared to the Taliban days) stable central bank regime will mean that Afghans can begin to develop confidence in the banking system, and believes that the new regime will be able to wean people off the deeply entrenched system of hawala. He says that hawala charges high prices and is unreliable, often resulting in people not receiving their money. He said that the rebuilt banking system will avoid both problems by having an inexpensive and documented centralised system and will issue receipts.

His comments fly in the face of the widespread use of hawala and similar systems for small payments especially in countries where the banking infrastructure is poor: precisely the circumstances which fuel the system in Afghanistan. While the banks will be able to handle payments for commercial transactions, it is debatable whether “social payments” can be made cost effectively in the regulated sector.

More on this story here.


The Rockwell Foundation’s latest report concludes that one in four Danes has earned what the locals term “black money”, i.e., undeclared income, within the last year. The survey was based on a broad cross-section of the population. Rockwell has estimated the value of lost tax revenues at around DKK 15 billion (€2 billion) per year, which corresponds to an average of 5000 kroner per capita.

More on this story here.


It would be wrong to imagine that only the wealthy can become embroiled in disputes about asset allocation after a death. Bob Perkins, senior technical consultant with U.K. independent advice firm Momentum Financial Services, said: “This is why it is so important to make sure everything is cut and dried and your intentions are set out in a professionally-written will.”

The best way to avoid later disputes is to involve all the family in planning from an early stage, so everyone is aware of your intentions.

More on this story here.


The notice in the “Forthcoming Marriages” section of The Times looked much like any other. “The engagement is announced between Benjamin [23], youngest son of the late Sir James Goldsmith and of Lady Annabel Goldsmith, and Kate [20], eldest daughter of the late the Hon Amschel Rothschild and of Mrs James Wigan,” it read.

But while the notice’s format was run-of-the-mill, the marriage that it heralds will be anything but ordinary. It represents not just a union between two of Britain’s wealthiest youngsters, but also a merger of three of the country’s most powerful dynasties: the Rothschilds, the Goldsmiths and the Guinnesses.

More on this story here.


The introduction of an amnesty for individuals who illegally stashed money offshore in the past, has been postponed by one month, National Treasury confirmed. The amnesty window period is now due to begin on June 1, and will run until the end of November

More on this story here.


The South African government will not be levying a one off wealth tax on business as compensation to victims of apartheid President Thabo Mbeki announced recently. The decision has allayed the growing fears within the corporate world of South Africa that the tax would hurt business and deter investors. As an alternative to the measure the government is urging business and individuals to donate voluntarily to a reparations fund set up to help those who suffered under the old regime.

More on this story here.


The Bush administration’s plans to expand a post-September 11 anti-terrorism law face resistance from a powerful House Republican who says he is not even sure he wants the government to keep its new powers. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, complains that the Justice Department is not sharing enough information for lawmakers to make a judgment on how well or poorly the USA Patriot Act is working.

Sensenbrenner maintains that because the department refuses to be forthcoming, it is losing the public relation battle needed to extend the law beyond its October 2005 expiration, much less expand it. For example, the American Civil Liberties Union this week used newspaper ads to attack one provision that the ACLU says allows the government to enter homes, conduct searches, download computer contents and Internet viewing histories without informing the occupant that such a search was conducted.

Passed weeks after the September 11 attacks, the USA Patriot Act granted the government broad new powers to use wiretaps, electronic and computer eavesdropping and searches and the authority to access a wide range of financial and other information in its investigations. It also broke down the traditional wall between FBI investigators and intelligence agents. Advocates say the current law has helped quash other terrorism attacks, but opponents claim it has eroded civil liberties.

More on this story here.


ARCATA, California: This North Coast city may look sweet -- old, low-to-the-ground buildings, town square with a bronze statue of William McKinley, ambling pickup trucks -- but it acts like a radical. Arcata was one of the first cities to pass resolutions against global warming and a unilateral war in Iraq. Last month, it joined the rising chorus of municipalities to pass a resolution urging local law enforcement officials and others contacted by federal officials to refuse requests under the Patriot Act that they believe violate an individual’s civil rights under the Constitution.

Then, the city went a step further. This little city (population: 16,000) has become the first in the nation to pass an ordinance that outlaws voluntary compliance with the Patriot Act. The Arcata ordinance may be the first, but it may not be the last. Across the country, citizens have been forming Bill of Rights defense committees to fight what they consider the most egregious curbs on liberties contained in the Patriot Act. Citizens groups are becoming increasingly organized and forceful in rebuking the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act for giving the federal government too much power, especially since a draft of the Justice Department’s proposed sequel to the Patriot Act (dubbed Patriot II) was publicly leaked in January.

To date, 89 cities have passed resolutions condemning the Patriot Act, with at least a dozen more in the works and a statewide resolution against the act close to being passed in Hawaii. “We want the local police to do what they were meant to do -- protect their citizens,” said Nancy Talanian, co-director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Florence, Massachusetts, which gives advice to citizens groups on how to draft their own resolution.

More on this story here.


A widening spy scandal involving a veteran agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a prized informant in Los Angeles is part of a much broader institutional problem that has led to the disciplining of several hundred agents in recent years for improper dealings with informants, law enforcement officials say.

The vast majority of these cases have never been made public, but law enforcement officials who have reviewed the problem say the F.B.I. has grappled with recurring episodes in which agents have had sexual or financial relationships with confidential informants. Some agents have worked out schemes in which they made “tens of thousands of dollars” by padding the expenses paid to informants or by demanding kickbacks from them, said a senior law enforcement official who insisted on anonymity.

The FBI’s system for managing its informants was thrown into the spotlight last week by the arrests in Los Angeles of James J. Smith, a veteran agent, and Katrina Leung, a longtime informant, on charges of mishandling classified data. Ms. Leung was a prized FBI “asset”, paid $1.7 million over the last two decades to move seamlessly between her native China and her adopted home in Los Angeles in search of Chinese secrets. But prosecutors now contend that Ms. Leung was a double agent.

More on this story here.


“As a public official, I appreciate and commend those trying to protect our nation against terrorist attacks,” the letter from a municipal employee of Bothell, Washington, begins. “I also have concerns, specifically regarding the treatment of those who have been identified as potential risks. It has become apparent, over the course of my last few trips, that I am one of those individuals.”

The letter is among a raft of documents offering new proof that government efforts to build an electronic tracking system of suspicious travelers simply are not working. The documents, obtained by Washington, D.C. privacy-advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) under the Freedom of Information Act, recount case after case of innocent travelers who are on the terrorist watch lists, yet have no way to remove themselves.

Since September 11, various federal agencies, including the State Department, Customs Service, and FBI, have created lists of suspicious travelers, Americans and foreigners. All told, some 13 million people (equivalent to 4.5% of the U.S. population) are now on the terror watch list. Security experts and common sense say 99% of those pinpointed are not terrorists.

The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) says errors like these are the reason that it needs to build a better, more complete database of information to track and flag suspicious behavior. Security and privacy experts, however, warn that no software exists to do the job better. A look at the most sophisticated and successful systems used to detect credit-card fraud supports their case.

More on this story here.


One of the arguments against the recent war in Iraq was that to invade another country that had not attacked us first would be a violation of that country’s sovereignty. Prior to the war, retiring House Majority Leader Dick Armey summed up the argument this way: “As long as he [Saddam] behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be addressing any attack or resources against him.” The same argument has been made wherever U.S. security interests were not directly at stake, e.g., Kosovo. In fact, the modern state system is built on the premise that nations do not interfere in each other’s internal matters.

What should a libertarian think of this argument? After all, libertarians believe in individual sovereignty, not state sovereignty. Since states are, at best, necessary evils and, at worst, outright criminal enterprises, why feel any reluctance to intervene in another state, especially when there is a real chance of increasing the liberty of the people who live there?

Defending national integrity may have its upside. The right to exit from a system that one finds tyrannical or that violates one’s moral convictions was offered as the justification for the American colonists’ separation from Great Britain. Such a right recognizes that no system of law is a perfect or closed system. There has to be room for experimentation and for dissent, and even for secession, individual or collective. Global interventionism, even in the name of libertarianism, will create a closed system, one from which there is no exit. If the terms of local sovereignty are contingent upon the good graces of the globalists in Washington, London, New York, or Brussels, there effectively is no local sovereignty.

More on this story here.


The economic expansion the country experienced from 1993–2000 was fuelled almost entirely by foreign investment, principally in the hotel and construction sector. During the period 1994-2001 about $2.5 billion was invested in new hotels, office buildings, high-end condominiums and estate homes. This represents just less than 50% of the GDP in a seven-year period. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to conclude that this level of investment in the construction sector is not sustainable. Further, it could be a very long time before such levels of investment in such a short period are seen again.

The unequivocal challenge to The Bahamas is to now look within to find the future drivers of its economy for the next cycle. History has shown that during times of economic crisis policy makers have explored creative initiatives which encouraged domestic investment. Why wait for a crisis? What does this mean in real terms?

More on this story here.


Barbados is a good offshore center in which do to business because its reputation with United States federal tax and law enforcement authorities is good. And at a time when U.S. officials are cracking down on the financing of terrorism and money laundering that image and track record are valuable assets. That is what about two-dozen participants heard about Barbados in an offshore financial services seminar held in Miami recently.

More on this story here.

Barbados background note here.


Washington, D.C.-based Center for Freedom and Prosperity is planning a seminar in the British Virgin Islands to analyze the local government’s plans to introduce new legislation which will tighten the supervisory regime for financial services, partly in response to pressure from the British Government, the OECD and the UN.

The CFP says that the seminar will include an update on international initiatives and provide analysis that will help the citizens of BVI in making the best decisions for their country. Speakers will address the following topics, among others:

More on this story here.


Commissioner responsible for Economic Affairs Will Johnson has come out in support of the work of former Netherlands Antilles Prime Minister Don Martina regarding the Caribbean Rim Investment Initiative intended to attract foreign investors to the Antilles.

More on this story here.


MANAMA: Bahrain’s central bank said Monday it has granted a licence for the establishment of a firm offering outsourcing services to financial institutions. Gulf Outsourcing Co. will offer such back-office functions as accounting and finance, information technology and human resources, the Bahrain Monetary Agency (BMA) said in a statement.

About 20 Islamic banks and finance houses operate alongside 46 offshore banks and a further 20 commercial banks in Bahrain, which faces increasing competition from Dubai for its mantle as the Gulf’s banking hub.

More on this story here.


The Isle of Mann can be expected to opt for exchange of information in its commitment to the EU’s savings tax directive, said the tax director with KPMG in the Island. Guernsey has already announced its intention to use the withholding tax option, while Jersey and Isle of Mann have yet to make a final decision on how to comply with the savings tax directive.

More on this story here.

Rothschilds, one of the world’s best-known financial institutions, has closed down its Isle of Mann operation.

More on this story here.


The UK government’s Finance Bill, which gives effect to this year’s budget proposals, also includes a section that will allow the regulations of the European Savings and Tax Directive to be incorporated into British law. The bill will allow the Inland Revenue to automatically collect and exchange with other EU member governments information on the payment of income from investments made by residents of the EU and a number of other participating states, including Switzerland and the US. The rules will come into effect if the Savings Directive is finally adopted by the EU: currently it is bogged down as a result of last-minute objections from Italy. The Directive will not take effect before 1 January 2005; the precise date is also dependent on agreements between the EU and its dependent territories.

More on this story here.


As Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, considers whether adopting the euro would be in Britain’s interest, he should look carefully at the experience of Germany. Membership in the monetary union has weakened the German economy and is preventing it from escaping its current slump. Although Germany also suffers from a variety of structural problems, it is the euro that raised its unemployment rate over the past year to 10.6%.

The German example shows that Britain’s decision about adopting the euro is not a question of whether the time to do so is now right. Adopting the euro is a permanent commitment with permanent consequences. My judgment is that it would not be in Britain’s long-term economic interest to accept the constraints of the single currency.

Analysis here.


One of the statistics complied by the International Monetary Fund is the quantity of gold owned by the world’s central banks. That weight is reported to be 32,291 tonnes of gold. Most people accept this number at face value and without questioning its accuracy. However, central banks actually own less gold.

In reality central banks own 32,291 tonnes of gold AND gold receivables. This distinction is important. From both a legal and an accounting point of view, gold in the vault is clearly very different from gold owed to you. The reason is that gold in the vault is much less risky than someone’s promise to pay you gold.

“Gold receivables” equal 46% of the 32,291 tonnes of gold reported by central banks. So only 17,291 tonnes of physical metal is left in central bank vaults. In 1945, 68% of the world’s gold was in central bank vaults, and the total quantity of money, i.e., national currency in circulation, was about $300 billion. Today the total quantity of national currency is about $30 trillion, a one hundred-fold increase in 57 years compounded at an 8.4% annual growth rate. And central banks hold in their vaults some 17,291 tonnes of gold, which is just 40% of the weight they held in 1945 and only 11.9% of today’s aboveground gold stock.

More on this story here.


In the heady 1990s, chief executives graced the covers of business magazines as heroes. Now, if they make the front page, it is for very different reasons: as often as not, the halo has been replaced by handcuffs. So it should come as no surprise that recent company filings suggest the pay packages of senior managers have been restructured to make it harder for bad bosses to walk away with undeserved millions. And yet, the same filings also show that in 2002, when shares continued to fall, most chief executives still got a healthy pay rise.

More on this story here.


The House and Senate have chosen to provide no more than $550 billion of tax relief over the next ten years, and it is possible that the actual level of tax cuts could fall as low as $350 billion. This undermines the President’s goal of boosting economic growth and job creation, but the damage can be minimized if lawmakers focus on tax reforms that improve incentives to engage in productive behavior.

Not all tax cuts are created equal. Providing a $500 annual “rebate” to every taxpayer in the country, for instance, would involve a significant reduction in tax revenue, but it would have no impact on economic growth. Eliminating -- or even reducing -- the double-tax on dividends, by contrast, would encourage more investment and boost the economy’s performance -- even though the amount of tax relief might be small compared to a universal tax rebate. It is even possible to use tax policy to boost growth without lowering the overall tax burden. A revenue-neutral flat tax, for instance, significantly would increase national economic output even though taxpayers -- as a group -- have no extra money in their pockets.

More on this story here.


T he United Nations, created “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, is a potential casualty of the latest war. It will continue to run its humanitarian programs and ruminate on the great issues. But the Bush administration and its supporters, still smarting over the U.N. refusal to officially bless the war in Iraq, have essentially declared that in a new world policed by American power, the United Nations will not be a player and should be consigned to the ash heap of history.

U.N. bashers are not disturbed by President Bush’s declaration that the UN should play a “vital” role in postwar Iraq because they know that Bush’s definition of “vital” (humanitarian aid) is far narrower than the internationalist definition (the UN as chief administrator). And because they agree with Bush that the victor in war should write the rules. Opponents of a Pax Americana contend that if Bush allows the Pentagon to marginalize the United Nations and run postwar Iraq by itself -- the blueprint, at least for the next six months -- it will confirm the widely held suspicion (outside the U.S., anyway) that the goal all along has been to make the world safe for U.S. interests.

More on this story here.


Mr. Bush’s confrontational attitude towards states he sees as hostile to America and its interests appears -- to some, at least -- to signal a seismic shift in American foreign policy. Ever since the terrorist attacks of September 2001, Mr Bush has tended to argue that those who are not with America are against it. It is an attitude which partly reflects his strong Christian beliefs. But to the extent that the president intends what he says to be taken literally, it is an illustration of how much the world has changed.

How it has changed, and how international relations will evolve in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, is far more difficult to judge. As always with Mr. Bush, it is as important to watch what he does as it is to listen to what he says. In the end, America did go ahead and invade Iraq, in the face of considerable international opposition. But the administration in Washington also displayed far more patience in its attempts to secure broad support for its stand at the United Nations than many had expected.

More on this story here.


Cisco Systems has created a more efficient and targeted way for police and intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on people whose Internet service provider uses their company’s routers. The company recently published a proposal that describes how it plans to embed “lawful interception” capability into its products. Among the highlights: Eavesdropping “must be undetectable”, and multiple police agencies conducting simultaneous wiretaps must not learn of one another. If an Internet provider uses encryption to preserve its customers’ privacy and has access to the encryption keys, it must turn over the intercepted communications to police in a descrambled form.

U.S. history provides many examples of government and police agencies conducting illegal wiretaps. The FBI unlawfully spied on Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., feminists, gay rights leaders and Catholic priests. During its dark days, the bureau used secret files and hidden microphones to blackmail the Kennedy brothers, sway the Supreme Court and influence presidential elections. Cisco’s Internet draft may be titled “lawful interception”, but there is no guarantee that the capability will always be used legally.

Still, if you do not like Cisco’s decision, remember that they are not the ones doing the snooping. Cisco is responding to its customers’ requests, and if they do not, other hardware vendors will.

More on this story here.


Frequent fliers might forfeit more than future flights on their favored carrier if any of the country’s beleaguered airlines go out of business. They could also lose control over their personal information.

The airline industry has been reeling from business losses related to the Iraq war, the slowdown in the economy, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the recent SARS outbreak. Both United Airlines and Hawaiian airlines are operating under bankruptcy protection, while American Airlines narrowly avoided having to file for bankruptcy this week by securing $1.8 billion in labor concessions.

If any of these carriers do go out of business, its assets will go on the auction block or be passed to its creditors. Privacy advocates contend the sale of either frequent flyer databases or general passenger records, if legally permitted, would severely compromise the privacy and rights of airline passengers.

Frequent flier records include detailed personal information about an airline’s best customers -- addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, dietary preferences and the names of children and travel companions. United Airlines’ Mileage Plus program alone has more than 40 million members. The records also contain detailed histories of each passenger’s previous flights, car rentals and hotel bookings. And for those who participate in programs that accumulate miles for credit-card or supermarket purchases, the data could be even more detailed.

It remains unclear, however, whether the airlines or its creditors could legally sell their frequent flier databases.

More on this story here.


What the FBI doesn’t know can kill you. That, at least, is what we have been led to believe since 9/11. Had agents in Minnesota been allowed to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer, had the Phoenix office memo warning of Al Qaeda members enrolling at U.S. aviation schools filtered up the chain of command, had the internal computer databases done anything but the most rudimentary searches, maybe, just maybe, things might have gone much differently 18 months ago. But for the failure to connect those proverbial dots, 3000 lives might have been saved.

The idea that 9/11 could have been prevented heightens the tragedy, of course, but also invites all kinds of speculation: if we accept the premise, then there must exist some deliberate course of action that we should now take. Experts and officials have spent the last year and a half trying to figure out what that course should be, but have reached no clear agreement. Understandably, much attention has focused on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, both for what it could have done but did not, and for what it should do now.

There are many unresolved questions, technical and institutional, as to whether the FBI can can reform sufficiently and upgrade its capabilities to become an effective intelligence agency.

More on this story here.


Everyone in Britain will have to pay around £25 for a compulsory identity card under proposals being put to the cabinet by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary. The “smart” card will identify the holder using iris-recognition technology. Failure to carry the card will not be an offence but police will be able to order people to present it at a police station. The charge is aimed at overcoming resistance to the scheme from the Treasury.

While forcing people to pay for the card could add to the anticipated objections from human rights campaigners, Mr. Blunkett believes that concern about national security is sufficient to ensure that individuals will be prepared to bear the cost.

Senior figures in the Cabinet strongly support the plan for the card, which would use a microchip to hold details including age, place of birth, home address and a personal number to identify the holder. It is also hoped that the card could be used to entitle the holder to a range of state benefits, thereby cutting benefit fraud.

More on this story here.


At least according to April 21 issue of the Egyptian newspaper Soat el Umma, which in Arabic means “Voice of the Nation”. Soat el Umma is sort of The National Enquirer of Cairo. But even The National Enquirer is right once in a while.

The report by Adel Hamuda is quite detailed and claims to be based on interviews with unnamed British intelligence officials. The reason that Baghdad fell so easily, according to the sources interviewed by Hamuda, is that the CIA paid millions of dollars to a core group of Iraqi generals not to put up a fight. Some of those generals were given U.S. passports and are now living in the United States.

“But the surprise that is highly believed in the political and strategic British circles,” according to Hamuda’s story, “is that ex-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is still alive and he participated himself in sealing a deal to hand over Baghdad to American forces without the firing of one bullet. In return, he was allowed to leave Iraq in a convoy that included the Russian ambassador in Baghdad and consisted of 17 cars, which is much larger than the customary number of cars used by the embassy.”

Alternatively... British defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, said that he believed Saddam Hussein was probably still hiding in Iraq, two weeks after the fall of Baghdad. His comments reflect the best guess of Britain’s intelligence agencies who question Washington’s view that Saddam Hussein was killed in an attack on a building attached to a restaurant in the wealthy Mansur district of Baghdad by four bunker-busting bombs.

More on this story here and here.


Banca del Gottardo has filed a complaint in Switzerland against parties alleging that it held accounts in the name of ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In a statement released from the Switzerland head office, the bank confirmed that it was a plaintiff in court proceedings initiated by the Public Prosecutor against persons unknown on the grounds of falsification of documents. The bank further stated that it has also filed a complaint for the same “crime” and for harm to its reputation.

This move came in wake of reports in The Sunday Times of April 13, that The Bahamas-based Banca del Gottardo, located at Goodman’s Bay, held an Iraqi regime account.

More on this story here.


A total of 246 suspicious transaction reports were received by the FIU between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2001, according to the FIU’s Annual Report. In its first report since becoming legally established on Dec. 29, 2000, the FIU revealed that out of the 246, 66 were forwarded to the Commissioner of Police for investigation, 88 were analysed and closed by the FIU, and 92 are still under review. The FIU has concluded that the passage of the new financial legislation, and the creation of the unit, have led to the increase in suspicious transactions reporting.

More on this story here.


Panama has had no military forces since 1989. The Panamanian Public Forces consisted of the Panamanian National Police (PNP), the National Maritime Service (SMN), the National Air Service (SAN), and the Institutional Protection Service (SPI). A 1994 constitutional amendment formally prohibits the establishment of a permanent military, although it contains a provision for the temporary formation of a “special police force” to protect the borders in case of a “threat of external aggression”.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there continued to be serious problems in several areas. Abuse by prison guards, both PNP and civilian, was a recurrent problem of the prison system. Overall prison conditions remained harsh, with periodic outbreaks of internal prison violence. Prolonged pretrial detention was a problem.

Full report here.

Report on Panama economy here.


ROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos: The top elected leader of the Turks and Caicos Islands said he is confident of victory in elections Thursday focused on disputes over the British territory’s economic health. Chief Minister Derek Taylor, who is seeking an unprecedented third straight term, pointed to economic stability as he predicted his governing party would easily capture a majority of the 13 seats in the Legislative Council.

The economy, which relies mainly on tourism and offshore banking, has expanded 8.5% over the past decade. Last year tourism dropped off and growth slipped to 6% -- still well above most spots in the Caribbean. But the opposition has dismissed the governing party’s claims of progress, saying the boom resulted from an overflow of U.S. prosperity and was benefiting already-wealthy foreigners more than islanders.

An estimated 15,000 of the islands’ 35,000 residents are foreigners -- including expatriates from Canada and the United States, plus thousands of poorer Haitians, Jamaicans and Dominicans.

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PARIS: Switzerland, held back by the strength of its currency, is struggling to pull free of the stagnation it has been facing for more than a year, the OECD says. Unemployment in Switzerland reached its highest level for four years in February 2003. It stood at 3.9%, and followed a wave of redundancies at Swiss banks. Turning to inflation, the OECD predicted that prices will remain unchanged this year.

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Since the end of the stock market boom the cultivated illusion that Switzerland’s private banks are immune to the caprices of the financial markets has begun to slip. The banks are cutting jobs with all the urgency of their more vulgar cousins on Wall Street. Some are even contemplating selling out.

Most have proved no better at protecting their clients’ fortunes than a common stockbroker -- they have just charged them more for the privilege. And, worse, a few have begun to lose money for their own shareholders.

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Micheline Calmy-Rey, says the government should start discussing EU membership after October’s parliamentary elections. She says the cabinet should decide whether to open talks during the next four years of parliament.

“Bilateral agreements are one way of achieving closer integration, and at the moment they serve our purpose,” she said. “We must let them run their course and then, during the next parliament, the government has to decide whether or not we start negotiations for joining the EU. [EU enlargement] will make it more and more difficult for Switzerland to defend its interests.”

The comments came as Calmy-Rey, who supports Swiss membership of the EU, marked the first three months in her new job. In that time, the Social Democrat, who was elected to the cabinet last December, has come under fire for her outspoken and forthright approach.

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BEIJING: China quarantines thousands on SARS fears. Police and health department personnel began a massive program to quarantine thousands of residents, homes, factories and school buildings in Beijing Thursday as China’s government sought to stop the SARS epidemic.

The government, meanwhile, announced that China’s toll in the disease rose to 2,422 infected and 110 dead. Beijing’s toll rose by 89 stricken and four dead. Altogether, 774 people have SARS in Beijing and 39 have died.

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Hong Kong’s citizens are now global pariahs. There is no sign that the World Health Organization is about to give Hong Kong a clean bill of health after slapping a travel advisory on the territory three weeks ago. Just Wednesday, six new SARS deaths were reported, pushing the territory’s toll to 105.

The travel advisory hurt in both directions: Travelers not only stopped coming to Hong Kong; people found it harder to travel from Hong Kong to destinations abroad. Nearby Malaysia stopped issuing tourist visas; the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia barred all visits; tiny Bhutan imposed a 10-day quarantine on passengers setting foot on its Himalayan soil; and British private schools dispatched returning Hong Kong students to quarantine camps offshore. Hong Kong’s 7 million people are now pariahs.

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Hedge funds take foward position on HK dollar. Hong Kong dollar forward contracts jumped to a five month high on Tuesday, prompting fears for the Hong Kong dollar peg. The premium on one year forwards surged over the weekend, a development which many observers have attributed to growing fears over the outcome of the SARS epidemic.

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Hong Kong to fight downturn with tax break package. The government of Hong Kong has unveiled a radical economic plan aimed at reviving the territory in the wake of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic. It will contain short term government backed loans to business as well as income tax rebates. The entire package is worth some HK$11.8 billion (US$1.5 billion) -- equivalent to 1% of the jurisdiction’s GDP. The plan is 12 times larger than a similar proposal announced in Singapore which has also been hit by the virus.

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Accounting scandals and bankruptcy filings by Enron, Tyco, Global Crossing and others have focused attention on the creative ways in which some executives have shielded their compensation packages from the IRS. Offshore deferred compensation trusts have been used by high earners and the rich to shield their earnings for many years.

Some of these trusts are legitimate as tax-planning vehicles. But others are often more dubious. The search for terrorist funds in the wake of the September 2001 attacks, and the wave of accounting scandals, alerted the IRS to the scale of the abuse. Citing an estimated $70 billion in lost annual tax revenues, the IRS is now aggressively trying to identify US taxpayers with offshore trusts. It hopes to collect back taxes, interest and penalties.

“Although under some circumstances foreign source income may be deferred from US income taxation by putting it in foreign trusts, a taxpayer nevertheless has an obligation to report the existence of the trust and its income to the IRS,” notes Selva Ozelli, a tax expert with RIA, a provider of tax information and software.

More on this story here.

Ernst & Young says U.S. lawmakers making inquiries about tax shelter schemes. A New York-based spokesman for the accounting firm confirmed that it had been contacted by the Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations, but he declined to comment any further on the matter. The ranking Democratic Senator on the subcommittee, Carl Levin, has criticised US corporations that move their headquarters to offshore tax havens such as Bermuda, and has co-sponsored legislation seeking to bar such moves.

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What happens when unimaginable wealth meets unscrupulous politics? Anyone interested in the question would do well to follow the proceedings of a four-month trial that is currently under way in Paris. The so-called Elf trial has gone largely unreported because of its very length and the mind-numbing detail of much of the evidence.

But for those patient enough to watch, it provides a fascinating insight into the moral vacuum that existed at the heart of France just 10 years ago. The three men who ran the then state-owned oil firm Elf-Aquitaine in the early 1990s -- chief executive Loik Le Floch-Prigent, his “general affairs manager” Alfred Sirven and the company”s Mr Africa Andre Tarallo -- are accused of raking off hundreds of millions of dollars of company money.

But the interest lies less in their personal enrichment than in the extraordinary mixture of secret accounts, bribes, personal favours and political influence-buying that was not just tolerated, but officially sanctioned by successive French governments. Billions passed through this complex and illicit money machine. What the defendants creamed off was just a tiny percentage.

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In a rare affront to the sector he oversees, Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatyev lashed out at the banking industry Wednesday for spiriting offshore the ruble equivalent of $5 billion last year under the guise of paying for “marketing services”. Russian banks say they are suffering from lower margins and declining interest rates, but Ignatyev said their profits are plenty, just hidden through tax-avoidance loopholes or outright money laundering.

This can only mean, he said, “that either banks’ management want to legalize criminal money or transfer money abroad or avoid taxes.” In reality, bankers and industry watchers say, all three are true because many banks continue to find creative ways of hiding their profits, but also to meet the demand of their clients -- big Russian corporations.

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In the latest version of the draft Exchange Control Amnesty and Amendment of Taxation Laws Bill, published on Thursday, advisers will be able to apply for amnesty, but this will have to be done jointly with their clients. Advisers were excluded from the law in the previous version.

Their exclusion had raised concerns they could discourage their clients from coming forward. It was also feared exclusion of the advisers could result in the SA Revenue Service (Sars) and SA Reserve Bank (SARB) carrying out a “witch-hunt” against them.

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While typical international experience has shown that a successful tax amnesty could bring in about 10% of all offshore funds, Germany, which is also considering an amnesty, has said about a third of its estimated flight capital could be repatriated.

While there are no clear estimates as to the total amount of “illegal funds” held by South Africans offshore, figures of between 60 and 80 billion rand have been mentioned. Individuals would be subject to a 5% exchange control charge on funds repatriated back to South Africa, or to a 10% charge on any foreign assets remaining offshore. A zero percent charge would apply for all assets that can be held legally offshore under the normal Exchange Control limits.

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Tony Blair has agreed to rule out an early referendum on British entry to the euro after chancellor Gordon Brown insisted this week that the Treasury’s five economic tests point to a decisive no. Mr. Blair, who had already privately ruled out a referendum this year, is still determined to keep open the option of joining the single currency later in this parliament. But the chancellor’s downbeat assessment of his five economic tests also makes the prospect of a referendum next year look highly unlikely.

A document presented to the prime minister by the chancellor two or three weeks ago suggested Britain would fail four of his five tests. The document raised fundamental questions about whether the eurozone economies were flexible enough to allow for the effective operation of a single monetary policy. It also suggested there would have to be a further fall in sterling’s exchange rate if Britain were to join soon, but this would damage the country’s economy.

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Figures published on April 25th showed that America’s economy grew by 1.6% at an annual rate in the first quarter of this year -- only slightly faster than the sluggish pace of growth at the tail end of 2002 -- and is lower than many economists had hoped for. It will certainly not be enough to cause anyone to revise their forecasts for the year as a whole. While the evidence on the American economy remains mixed, for the rest of the world there is little comfort in any recent data. Add to that the economic damage which the SARS virus is inflicting, especially in Asia, and it is hard to disagree with the conventional wisdom that global economic recovery is going to be a long, slow haul.

More on this story here.


The purchase of AMP’s New Zealand banking assets this month will not stop The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp (HSBC) looking for further bank acquisitions, the bank’s head of personal banking said. Mr. Bentley noted: “HSBC is an acquirer of banks. It has proved that over the years in this part of the world.” He said the bank grew 42% organically last year.

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NEW YORK: Nervous depositors hoping to withdraw their money were lined up eight-across outside the Abacus Federal Savings Bank branches in Chinatown for the second day in a row on Wednesday. Joining them were the police, the news media and and the bank’s chief executive, who used a bullhorn to beg the throng to leave its money where it was.

Thomas Sung, a sharply dressed businessman who came to the United States at age 16 and founded what is now one of the largest minority-owned banks in the country, urged people to go home. Community leaders did the same, in different dialects but always in pleading tones.

Despite Mr. Sung’s air of confidence and smile, thousands of people withdrew their money, emptied their safe deposit boxes or just checked for themselves that their money was safe at the bank’s two Chinatown branches. A similar rush was reported at the Abacus branch in Philadelphia, but the bank’s three other branches did not report significant increases in traffic yesterday.

Regulators said they could not recall a run of this intensity since the Great Depression. It began on Tuesday, when word circulated around Chinatown that a manager at the Canal Street branch, Carol Lim, was fired after she was accused of embezzling money.

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The average taxpayer spent the first 112 days this year working for the Government -- now they start working for themselves, the Roundtable said. Tax Freedom Day was based on central government core spending, which equals about 31% of gross domestic product (GDP). That core spending was the best measure of the tax burden because almost all government spending had to be financed from tax or borrowing -- amounting to deferred taxation.

If local government is included as well, total government spending is projected to be more than 37% of GDP this year, which would move Tax Freedom Day out to May 17.

No country had achieved “per capita” growth rates of 4% or more a year on a sustained basis, when general government spending approached 40% of GDP, Roundtable executive director Roger Kerr said.

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The “advance-fee” frauds, also known as “4-1-9” scams after the section of the Nigerian penal code that addresses them, date back to the 1980s. Then, the pleas arrived by mail, and later, by fax. These days, the Internet has radically improved the fraudsters’ cost margins and efficiency, to the point where the U.S. Secret Service received 326,000 reports of 4-1-9 e-mails last year -- up from 33,000 in 2001. And the Web has no doubt helped fraudsters beef up their address books: Similar pitches by mail increased to 38,000 pieces last year, from 7,500 the year before.

Secret Service spokesman Brian Marr says his organization tracked losses of $24 million to U.S. victims of 4-1-9 fraud in 2002. And that is just what was taken from those who were willing to come forward. “It’s a very underreported crime,” says Marr. The reason? Victims are often extremely embarrassed by their own gullibility and greed.

A Business Week reporter answered an e-mail promising a fortune for helping desperate foreigners move money overseas. They called her -- then got cold feet.

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Two prominent online citizen-action groups have launched a media and grassroots campaign to end corporate offshore tax shelters. MoveOn.org and WorkingforChange.com say that big corporations are not shouldering their share of the tax burden and are deserting the country at a time of need. The groups hope to shore up enough Congressional support to end the tax maneuvers.

More on this story here.


SAN FRANCISCO: The American Civil Liberties Union sued the FBI and other government agencies Tuesday on behalf of two peace activists detained at an airport because their names popped up on a secret “no-fly” list. The women were among 339 travelers briefly detained and questioned at San Francisco International Airport during the past two years after their names were found in the database, the ACLU said, citing government documents. Those travelers ultimately were allowed to continue on their journeys.

The ACLU is asking a federal judge to demand that the TSA, FBI or the Justice Department disclose who is on the list, how they got on it and how they can get off it. The two invoked the Freedom of Information Act to demand that authorities reveal why they were stopped. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) did not respond to their request and the FBI said no files on the two existed, the ACLU said.

More on this story here.


The USA’s three major credit bureaus are trying to make it easier for consumers to sort out problems stemming from identity theft. Starting this month, consumers cannotify any one of the agencies -- Equifax, Experian or TransUnion -- that they have been victimized by an identity thief, and that agency will relay the information to the other two bureaus.

All three will then put a “security alert” on the consumer’s credit file, remove the person’s name from mailing lists for preapproved offers of credit cards and insurance, and mail the consumer a copy of his or her credit report. They also promise to speed up the removal of fraudulent items from credit reports after the victim files a police report.

Identity theft is a growing problem in America. More than 161,000 consumers filed complaints with the government about identity theft last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which maintains a database of cases. That is nearly double the number in 2001.

More on this story here.


OpenTable.com, an online restaurant reservation service, has more than 1,400 member restaurants in more than 30 cities. Although OpenTable initially emphasized online reservations in its marketing campaign, that function accounts for, on average, only about 5% of the total reservations at member restaurants. A more important element of the service -- to restaurants and customers alike -- is the data-tracking capability of the OpenTable software for all customers, no matter how they made their reservations. OpenTable enables restaurants to collect and access quickly such information as their customers’ favorite wines, waiters, water and tables, their food allergies, their birthdays and anniversaries -- everything they need to know to “treat every customer like a VIP”, in the words of Thomas Layton, chief executive of OpenTable.

In Los Angeles, where egos seem especially large -- and especially fragile -- and where dietary habits often range from the merely exotic to the obsessively ascetic, the ability to make customers feel pampered and important is especially useful. Some information that restaurants enter as “customer codes” or “customer notes” are far more personal -- and not always complimentary. “Orders and eats at a snail’s pace. Schooled in hell and graduated with honors,” reads the note on one woman who dines regularly at Michael’s in Santa Monica.

More on this story here.
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