Author: Fbiz

Hong Kong Ex-Official Patrick Ho Jailed 3 Years for Bribery

Hong Kong’s former home affairs secretary Patrick Ho Chi Ping was jailed for three years Monday for a scheme to bribe African officials to boost a top Chinese energy company that was part of Beijing’s global Belt and Road initiative.

Ho, 69, who worked for the controversial energy conglomerate CEFC China Energy, was sentenced by a New York judge after being convicted in December on seven charges of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering for bribes.

He was accused of paying off top officials in Uganda and Chad to support the Shanghai conglomerate’s projects in their countries.

Some of the deals were arranged in the halls of the United Nations, leading to the U.S. arrest in November 2017 of Ho and a co-conspirator, former Senegalese top diplomat Cheikh Gadio.

The two men allegedly offered a $2 million bribe to Idriss Deby, the president of Chad, “to obtain valuable oil rights,” and a $500,000 bribe to an account designated by Sam Kutesa, the minister of foreign affairs of Uganda, who had recently completed his term as the President of the U.N. General Assembly, according to the charges.

“Patrick Ho schemed to bribe the leaders of Chad and Uganda in order to secure unfair business advantages for the Chinese energy company he served,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. “Foreign corruption undermines the fairness of international markets, erodes the public’s faith in its leaders, and is deeply unfair to the people and businesses that play by the rules.”

CEFC was an upstart company that quickly grew to be worth tens of billions of dollars despite a murky track record.

It was considered to be a vital player in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious One Belt One Road plan to build commercial networks around the world.

CEFC was led by Ye Jianying, an ostensibly well-connected businessman who built a network of global contacts, and notably was able to meet with members of then-vice president Joe Biden’s family and a former CIA director.

But after Ho was arrested by U.S. authorities in 2017, CEFC’s business began to crumble.

Last year, Ye disappeared and is now believed to be held by Chinese authorities for unspecified charges.

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Hong Kong Ex-Official Patrick Ho Jailed 3 Years for Bribery

Hong Kong’s former home affairs secretary Patrick Ho Chi Ping was jailed for three years Monday for a scheme to bribe African officials to boost a top Chinese energy company that was part of Beijing’s global Belt and Road initiative.

Ho, 69, who worked for the controversial energy conglomerate CEFC China Energy, was sentenced by a New York judge after being convicted in December on seven charges of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering for bribes.

He was accused of paying off top officials in Uganda and Chad to support the Shanghai conglomerate’s projects in their countries.

Some of the deals were arranged in the halls of the United Nations, leading to the U.S. arrest in November 2017 of Ho and a co-conspirator, former Senegalese top diplomat Cheikh Gadio.

The two men allegedly offered a $2 million bribe to Idriss Deby, the president of Chad, “to obtain valuable oil rights,” and a $500,000 bribe to an account designated by Sam Kutesa, the minister of foreign affairs of Uganda, who had recently completed his term as the President of the U.N. General Assembly, according to the charges.

“Patrick Ho schemed to bribe the leaders of Chad and Uganda in order to secure unfair business advantages for the Chinese energy company he served,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. “Foreign corruption undermines the fairness of international markets, erodes the public’s faith in its leaders, and is deeply unfair to the people and businesses that play by the rules.”

CEFC was an upstart company that quickly grew to be worth tens of billions of dollars despite a murky track record.

It was considered to be a vital player in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious One Belt One Road plan to build commercial networks around the world.

CEFC was led by Ye Jianying, an ostensibly well-connected businessman who built a network of global contacts, and notably was able to meet with members of then-vice president Joe Biden’s family and a former CIA director.

But after Ho was arrested by U.S. authorities in 2017, CEFC’s business began to crumble.

Last year, Ye disappeared and is now believed to be held by Chinese authorities for unspecified charges.

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Airbus Wins China Order for 300 Jets as Xi Visits France

Airbus signed a deal worth tens of billions of dollars on Monday to sell 300 aircraft to China as part of a trade package coinciding with a visit to Europe by Chinese President Xi Jinping and matching a China record held by rival Boeing.

The deal between Airbus and China’s state buying agency, China Aviation Supplies Holding Company, which regularly coordinates headline-grabbing deals during diplomatic visits, will include 290 A320-family jets and 10 A350 wide-body jets.

French officials said the deal was worth some 30 billion euros at catalogue prices. Planemakers usually grant significant discounts.

The larger-than-expected order, which matches an order for 300 Boeing planes when U.S. Donald Trump visited Beijing in 2017, follows a year-long vacuum of purchases in which China failed to place significant orders amid global trade tensions.

It also comes as the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX has left uncertainty over Boeing’s immediate hopes for a major jet order as the result of any warming of U.S.-China trade ties.

There was no evidence of any direct connection between the Airbus deal and Sino-U.S. tensions or Boeing fleet problems, but China watchers say Beijing has a history of sending diplomatic signals or playing off suppliers through state aircraft deals.

“The conclusion of a big (aviation) contract … is an important step forward and an excellent signal in the current context,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a joint address with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

The United States and China are edging towards a possible deal to ease a months-long tariff row and a deal involving as many as 200-300 Boeing jets had until recently been expected as part of the possible rapprochement.

Long-term relationship

China was also the first to ground the newest version of Boeing’s workhorse 737 model earlier this month following a deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash, touching off a series of regulatory actions worldwide.

Asked if negotiations had accelerated as a result of the Boeing grounding or other issues, Airbus planemaking chief and designated chief executive Guillaume Faury told reporters, “This is a long-term relationship with our Chinese partners that evolves over time; it is a strong sign of confidence.”

China has become a key hunting ground for Airbus and its leading rival Boeing, thanks to surging travel demand.

But whether Airbus or Boeing is involved, analysts say diplomatic deals frequently contain a mixture of new demand, repeats of older orders and credits against future deals, meaning the immediate impact is not always clear.

The outlook has also been complicated by Beijing’s desire to grow its own industrial champions and, more recently for Boeing, the U.S.-China trade war.

French President Macron unexpectedly failed to clinch an Airbus order for 184 planes during a trip to China in early 2018 and the two sides have been working to salvage it.

Industry sources have said the year’s delay in Airbus negotiations, as well as a buying freeze during the U.S. tariff row, created latent demand for jets to feed China’s growth.

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Chairman of India’s Ailing Jet Airways Resigns

The chairman of India’s private Jet Airways has quit amid mounting financial woes which have forced it to suspend 14 international routes and ground more than 80 planes.

A statement by the airline says its board on Monday accepted the resignations of Chairman Naresh Goyal, his wife and a nominee of Gulf carrier Etihad Airways from the board. It said Goyal will also cease to be chairman.

Goyal has been trying to obtain new funding from Etihad Airways, which holds a 24 percent stake in the airline, which was founded 27 years ago.

The statement said the airline will receive 15 billion rupees ($217 million) in immediate funding under a recovery plan formulated by its creditors.

 

 

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Malaysian Leader in Pakistan to Sign $900M in Investment Deals 

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad arrived Thursday in Pakistan on an official three-day visit, where his high-powered delegation is expected to finalize investment deals worth nearly $900 million, officials said. 

 

The Malaysian leader will also be the chief guest at the Pakistan Day military parade Saturday, the Foreign Ministry announced. 

 

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adviser on commerce told reporters that business leaders accompanying Mahathir would sign three memorandums of understanding on Friday covering up to $900 million worth of investments in information technology and telecom sectors.  

The adviser, Razak Dawood, said the deals with Malaysia would also provide Pakistan a new opening toward membership in the Association of South East Asian Nations. He said Malaysian businessmen had also indicated they would like to invest in other sectors, including energy and textiles, to help Pakistan improve its exports. 

 

Officials said that Malaysia’s Proton carmaker signed an agreement late last year with a Pakistani partner to set up an assembly plant in the southern city of Karachi that would be its first facility in South Asia. Khan and his Malaysian counterpart are expected to officiate at a symbolic groundbreaking of the Proton plant Friday.

Looking for investors

Since taking office last August, Khan has approached nations that have warm relations with Pakistan, including China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Malaysia, to bring investment and financial deposits to help reduce a widening current account deficit and shore up foreign reserves.  

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have deposited or are in the process of depositing $6 billion in loans in recent months. The two countries have also agreed to allow Islamabad to import oil on deferred payments. China is expected to deposit more than $2 billion in the next few days. 

 

Beijing has invested more than $19 billion over the past six years in energy and infrastructure projects under what is known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, as part of its global Belt and Road Initiative. 

 

Last month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman visited Islamabad and signed investment agreements worth $20 billion, including a $10 billion refinery and petrochemicals complex in the southwestern port city of Gwadar. 

 

Pakistani officials say they are also close to securing a deal with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package reportedly of up to $12 billion.

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Federal Reserve Foresees No Interest Rate Hikes in 2019

The Federal Reserve left its key interest rate unchanged Wednesday and projected no rate hikes in 2019, dramatically underscoring its plan to be “patient” about any further increases.

The Fed said it was keeping its benchmark rate — which can influence everything from mortgages to credit cards to home equity lines of credit — in a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. It also announced that it will stop shrinking its bond portfolio in September, a step that should help hold down long-term rates. It will begin slowing the runoff from its bond portfolio in May.

Combined, the moves signal no major increases in borrowing rates for consumers and businesses. And together with the Fed’s dimmer forecast for economic growth this year — 2.1 percent, down from a previous projection of 2.3 percent — the statement it issued Wednesday after its latest policy meeting suggests that it’s grown more concerned about the economy.

With the prospect of no rate hikes ahead anytime soon, the stock market reversed losses it had suffered before the Fed issued its statement and was up modestly soon after.

The Fed’s decision was approved on an 11-0 vote.

Economic activity slows

Some Fed watchers say they think the next rate move could be a cut later this year if the economy slows as much as some fear it might.

In signaling no rate increases at all this year, the Fed’s policymakers reduced their forecast from two that were previously predicted in December. They now project one rate hike in 2020 and none in 2021. The Fed had raised rates four times last year and a total of nine times since December 2015.

The Fed’s pause in credit tightening is a response, in part, to slowdowns in the U.S. and global economies. It says that while the job market remains strong, “growth of economic activity has slowed from its solid rate in the fourth quarter.”

The Fed laid out a plan for stemming the reduction of its balance sheet: In May, it will slow its monthly reductions in Treasurys from $30 billion to $15 billion and end the runoff altogether in September. Starting in October, the Fed will shift its runoff of mortgage bonds into Treasurys so its overall balance sheet won’t drop further.

Change in direction

The central bank’s new embrace of patience and flexibility reflects its calming response since the start of the year to slow growth at home and abroad, a nervous stock market and persistently mild inflation. The Fed executed an abrupt pivot when it met in January by signaling that it no longer expected to raise rates anytime soon. 

The shift toward a more hands-off Fed and away from a policy of steadily tightening credit has encouraged the view that the central bank is done raising rates for now and might even act this year to support rather than restrain the economy. Though the U.S. economy is on firm footing, it faces risks from slowing growth and trade conflicts. 

All of which suggests that the Fed may recognize that it went too far after it met in December. At that meeting, the Fed approved a fourth rate hike for 2018 and projected two additional rate increases in 2019. Chairman Jerome Powell also said he thought the balance sheet reduction would be on “automatic pilot.” 

That message spooked investors, who worried about the prospect of steadily higher borrowing rates for consumers and businesses and perhaps a further economic slowdown. The stock market had begun falling in early October and then accelerated after the Fed’s December meeting.

Trump weighs in

President Donald Trump, injecting himself not for the first time into the Fed’s ostensibly independent deliberations, made clear he wasn’t happy, calling the December rate hike wrong-headed. Reports emerged that Trump was even contemplating trying to fire Powell, who had been his hand-picked choice to lead the Fed. 

But after the December turmoil, the Fed in January began sending a more comforting message. At an economic conference soon after New Year’s, Powell stressed that the Fed would be “flexible” and “patient” in raising rates — a word he and other policymakers have invoked repeatedly since — and “wouldn’t hesitate” to change course if necessary. 

Powell, appearing last week on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” denied that pressure from Trump had influenced the Fed’s policy shift. Private economists generally agree that a slowing economy and a sinking stock market, which eased Fed worries about any possible stock bubble, were more decisive factors. 

Stocks have rallied

After sharply falling in December, stocks have rallied and recouped most of their late-year losses in trading since the start of 2019, a rebound credited larger to the Fed’s easier monetary stance. 

Some analysts say they think the Fed won’t raise rates at all this year if the outlook becomes as dim as they are forecasting. 

That view is supported by the CME Group, which tracks trading in futures contracts on the Fed’s benchmark rate. It says traders now put the probability of any Fed rate hike this year at just 1 percent and project a roughly one-in-four chance that the Fed will actually cut rates by year’s end to help prevent a slowing economy from toppling into a recession.

 

 

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Federal Reserve Foresees No Interest Rate Hikes in 2019

The Federal Reserve left its key interest rate unchanged Wednesday and projected no rate hikes in 2019, dramatically underscoring its plan to be “patient” about any further increases.

The Fed said it was keeping its benchmark rate — which can influence everything from mortgages to credit cards to home equity lines of credit — in a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. It also announced that it will stop shrinking its bond portfolio in September, a step that should help hold down long-term rates. It will begin slowing the runoff from its bond portfolio in May.

Combined, the moves signal no major increases in borrowing rates for consumers and businesses. And together with the Fed’s dimmer forecast for economic growth this year — 2.1 percent, down from a previous projection of 2.3 percent — the statement it issued Wednesday after its latest policy meeting suggests that it’s grown more concerned about the economy.

With the prospect of no rate hikes ahead anytime soon, the stock market reversed losses it had suffered before the Fed issued its statement and was up modestly soon after.

The Fed’s decision was approved on an 11-0 vote.

Economic activity slows

Some Fed watchers say they think the next rate move could be a cut later this year if the economy slows as much as some fear it might.

In signaling no rate increases at all this year, the Fed’s policymakers reduced their forecast from two that were previously predicted in December. They now project one rate hike in 2020 and none in 2021. The Fed had raised rates four times last year and a total of nine times since December 2015.

The Fed’s pause in credit tightening is a response, in part, to slowdowns in the U.S. and global economies. It says that while the job market remains strong, “growth of economic activity has slowed from its solid rate in the fourth quarter.”

The Fed laid out a plan for stemming the reduction of its balance sheet: In May, it will slow its monthly reductions in Treasurys from $30 billion to $15 billion and end the runoff altogether in September. Starting in October, the Fed will shift its runoff of mortgage bonds into Treasurys so its overall balance sheet won’t drop further.

Change in direction

The central bank’s new embrace of patience and flexibility reflects its calming response since the start of the year to slow growth at home and abroad, a nervous stock market and persistently mild inflation. The Fed executed an abrupt pivot when it met in January by signaling that it no longer expected to raise rates anytime soon. 

The shift toward a more hands-off Fed and away from a policy of steadily tightening credit has encouraged the view that the central bank is done raising rates for now and might even act this year to support rather than restrain the economy. Though the U.S. economy is on firm footing, it faces risks from slowing growth and trade conflicts. 

All of which suggests that the Fed may recognize that it went too far after it met in December. At that meeting, the Fed approved a fourth rate hike for 2018 and projected two additional rate increases in 2019. Chairman Jerome Powell also said he thought the balance sheet reduction would be on “automatic pilot.” 

That message spooked investors, who worried about the prospect of steadily higher borrowing rates for consumers and businesses and perhaps a further economic slowdown. The stock market had begun falling in early October and then accelerated after the Fed’s December meeting.

Trump weighs in

President Donald Trump, injecting himself not for the first time into the Fed’s ostensibly independent deliberations, made clear he wasn’t happy, calling the December rate hike wrong-headed. Reports emerged that Trump was even contemplating trying to fire Powell, who had been his hand-picked choice to lead the Fed. 

But after the December turmoil, the Fed in January began sending a more comforting message. At an economic conference soon after New Year’s, Powell stressed that the Fed would be “flexible” and “patient” in raising rates — a word he and other policymakers have invoked repeatedly since — and “wouldn’t hesitate” to change course if necessary. 

Powell, appearing last week on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” denied that pressure from Trump had influenced the Fed’s policy shift. Private economists generally agree that a slowing economy and a sinking stock market, which eased Fed worries about any possible stock bubble, were more decisive factors. 

Stocks have rallied

After sharply falling in December, stocks have rallied and recouped most of their late-year losses in trading since the start of 2019, a rebound credited larger to the Fed’s easier monetary stance. 

Some analysts say they think the Fed won’t raise rates at all this year if the outlook becomes as dim as they are forecasting. 

That view is supported by the CME Group, which tracks trading in futures contracts on the Fed’s benchmark rate. It says traders now put the probability of any Fed rate hike this year at just 1 percent and project a roughly one-in-four chance that the Fed will actually cut rates by year’s end to help prevent a slowing economy from toppling into a recession.

 

 

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Even With Trade Deal, US Tariffs on China Could Remain

U.S. tariffs on China are likely to remain in place for a while, even if a trade deal is reached, President Donald Trump told reporters Wednesday. 

 

“The deal is coming along nicely,” the president said about the trade talks with Beijing, noting U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would be heading to China within days to continue discussions.  

  

“We’re taking in billions and billions of dollars right now in tariff money, and for a period of time that will stay,” Trump said.

The president’s remarks indicated that Washington’s tariffs could stay in place until U.S. officials are convinced the Chinese are adhering to the terms of the agreement. 

 

“They’ve had a lot of problems living by certain deals,” the president noted on the White House South Lawn just before boarding the Marine One helicopter.   

China might accept a deal in which most of the U.S. tariffs are rolled back, according to Brookings Institution senior fellow David Dollar, but he said he expected President Xi Jinping would not accept any pact in which no tariffs were lifted. 

 

“It’s very hard for the Chinese president to agree to a deal that’s so clearly asymmetric. Chinese people are so active on the internet and social media, and President Xi will hear about it from the people if he makes a deal that looks bad for China,” Dollar told VOA.  

  

Tit-for-tat tariffs imposed last year ignited fears of a trade war between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, which annually trade more than a half-trillion dollars’ worth of goods.  

 

The value of Chinese products sold in the United States far outweighs the value of those sent to China, and that deficit alone represents about 80 percent of America’s overall trade gap in goods. 

A pillar of the Trump presidency has been reducing that huge gap by negotiating bilateral trade deals and rebuilding the U.S. manufacturing base.

Trump traveled Wednesday to an area in Ohio where General Motors is set to shutter a car assembly plant, affecting about 1,500 jobs and undercutting the president’s manufacturing revival message.  

 

“What’s going on with General Motors?” Trump asked during a speech. “Get that plant open or sell it to somebody and they’ll open it. Everybody wants it.”  

 

“Intervening to try to keep one factory open isn’t going to do much for the economy” at a time when manufacturing is declining as a share of the overall job market, said Dollar, of the Brookings Institution. “It’s a bad precedent for politicians to intervene like that.”  

 

A resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Claude Barfield, agrees presidents should not intervene in individual corporate decisions.  

 

“The president is woefully ignorant about trade and this part of the economy. He thinks it does help. I don’t think it does at all help,” Barfield, a former consultant to the office of the U.S. trade representative, told VOA.  

The closure of the GM plant in Lordstown, according to a Cleveland State University study, will result in a total loss of 7,700 jobs in the region, including supply chain and consumer services employment tied to the auto plant, cutting 10 percent of the gross regional product in the greater Youngstown area. 

 

Trump, in his remarks on Wednesday, placed some of the blame on the United Auto Workers, the union representing the GM workers.  

 

“Your union leaders aren’t on our side,” Trump declared. “They could have kept General Motors” operating the Lordstown plant.  

Trump spoke at a facility in Lima that makes the M1 Abrams tank for the U.S. Army, about 300 kilometers from the idled auto factory.  

 

“You better love me. I kept this place open,” Trump told workers at the General Dynamics facility, which was nearly closed six years ago after Army officials told Congress they did not need the additional tanks.  

Ohio, which Trump won in the 2016 election by 8 percentage points, again will be a key battleground state in next year’s presidential election. 

 

Polls in the Buckeye State, where the president relies on a strong base of working-class voters, show his approval rating slipping. 

 

Trade and tariffs are “not even the core issue about retaining the manufacturing jobs in this region,” University of Akron associate professor Mahesh Srinivasan, who is director of the school’s Institute of Global Business, told VOA. 

 

Srinivasan said the focus by the Trump administration should not be so much on trade agreements as on “the inevitable march of automation and technology that has displaced workers from traditional jobs. The need of the hour is doubling down with even more emphasis on worker training and education to prepare the workforce for tomorrow’s jobs.”  

 

Tariffs on imported automobiles — as are being contemplated by the White House — “would be counterproductive, like we have seen with steel tariffs,” said Srinivasan, who was part of former President Barack Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership task force. “It could attract retaliatory tariffs that will negatively impact numerous automobile manufacturers in Ohio and other Midwestern states, which today are supplying to automobile manufacturers globally.”  

  

Some trade analysts agree that Trump’s metals tariffs on Canada and Mexico have hurt American manufacturing, including making U.S. auto plants less competitive.  

 

Patsy Widakuswara and Elizabeth Cherneff contributed to this report. 

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