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Moldova seeks to solve riddle of missing $1 billion | Reuters

Posted on May 7th, 2015 at 8:55 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


Moldova will step up an investigation into the disappearance of more than $1 billion from three banks, the head of the central bank told Reuters on Tuesday, after around 10,000 people protested over the scandal at the weekend.

Last year Moldova placed Banca de Economii, Banca Sociala and Unibank under central bank administration after a series of non-performing loans bankrupted the lenders, which together account for up to 20 percent of the tiny former Soviet republic’s banking system in terms of assets.

Central bank head Dorin Dragutanu said foreign investigators would be appointed by the end of May in the second phase of a probe into the loss of the money, which is equivalent to around an eighth of Moldova’s gross domestic product.


“There appears to have been a deliberate plan to gain control of each of the banks and subsequently manipulate transactions to gain access to credit, whilst giving the appearance to the contrary,” the report said.



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  1. Who would have thought the Soviets would adapt so quickly to capitalism?

Payday at the mill

Posted on April 20th, 2015 at 21:08 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


At the end of the day, the paper machines changed hands on paper; the lenders that loaned the $31.8 million got their money back; Enhanced and the other broker, Stonehenge Community Development of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pocketed $2 million in fees; and the equity investors – the people or funds that put up the $8.2 million that was not repaid as one-day loans – were promised $16 million in Maine tax credits, which are redeemable over seven years.

In other words, Maine’s taxpayers provided the equity investors, who faced little risk, with a $7.8 million profit. And despite the fact that the mill closed and went bankrupt, there’s no way for the state to wriggle out of its commitment to pay the investors the $16 million.

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  1. It was abuse from the get go: ”The out-of-state financial firms that acted as middlemen in the deal, pocketing roughly $2 million in origination and brokerage fees, were the same ones that hired the lawyers and lobbyists who helped create Maine’s program.”

The bank moved to seize a widow’s home. But it didn’t tell her the loan was insured.

Posted on April 17th, 2015 at 19:24 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


For more than a decade after her husband died, Laura Coleman Biggs paid her mortgage to a Bank of America subsidiary. She was never told, even as she was weeks from losing her home, that her husband had actually protected her against foreclosure.

George “Kenny” Mitchell had taken out a special lender-pushed insurance policy to pay off most of his loan if he died.

But when he passed away on April 26, 2003, the subsidiary of Charlotte-based Bank of America did not arrange a payoff of the $100,000 policy and continued to charge his widow an insurance premium every month along with her mortgage payment.

Now Bank of America, Select Portfolio Servicing – a company that collects mortgage payments – and a Florida insurer all face a federal lawsuit in California seeking compensatory and punitive damages, alleging negligence and fraud for their treatment of Biggs.

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All You Need to Know About Income Inequality, in One Comparison

Posted on March 16th, 2015 at 14:52 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


The Wall Street bonus pool for last year is roughly double the total earnings of all Americans who work full time at the federal minimum wage.

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  1. But just think of the rents they have to pay to live in Manhattan, and the cost of prime rib! :rolleyes:

Wells Fargo Puts a Ceiling on Subprime Auto Loans

Posted on March 3rd, 2015 at 0:37 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


Wells Fargo, one of the largest subprime car lenders, is pulling back from that roaring market, a move that is being felt throughout the broader auto industry.

The giant San Francisco bank, known for its stagecoach logo and its steady profits, has been at the center of the boom in making loans to people with tarnished credit scores. Wall Street, meanwhile, has been bundling and selling such loans as securities to investors, reaping big profits while allowing millions of financially troubled borrowers to buy cars.

Now where did I hear this thing before….

They are people like Zheng Hui Dong, a Chinese immigrant who bought a 2010 Honda Civic from a dealership in Queens for a total cost over the life of the loan of $42,000 — or nearly four times the resale value of the car, according to court records. And Beatriz Rodriguez of Queens, who filed for bankruptcy last year, but still tries to keep up with her $900 monthly payments on the Honda she uses to take care of her grandchildren.


“Let that sink in,” he told the audience. “That means it is not uncommon today for a family with subprime credit to take a loan at 110 percent of a used car’s value that they will be paying off for seven years.”

Nope. No clue. Anybody?

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  1. Exploiting the poor has always been good business, one of the best examples of capitalism in this country.

Telegraph’s Peter Oborne resigns, saying HSBC coverage a ‘fraud on readers’

Posted on February 18th, 2015 at 22:06 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


The Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator has resigned and launched a blistering attack on the paper’s management and owners over its lack of coverage of the HSBC tax story, which he described as a “fraud on its readers”.

Peter Oborne, associate editor of the Spectator and a familiar face on Channel 4 Dispatches documentaries, claimed the paper deliberately suppressed stories about the banking giant, including last week’s revelations that its Swiss subsidiary helped wealthy customers dodge taxes and conceal millions of dollars in assets, in order to keep its valuable advertising account.

He said it was a “most sinister development” at the broadsheet title, which he described as “the most important conservative-leaning newspaper in Britain”, but where he alleged the traditional distinction between the advertising and editorial departments had collapsed.

Oborne claimed it was a pattern that could be seen elsewhere in the paper’s reporting, including its coverage of last year’s protests in Hong Kong.

Oborne said the Telegraph’s coverage of HSBC, by putting the interests of a major international bank above its duty to report the news, was a “form of fraud on its readers”.


Before the latest HSBC revelations were published, and while discussions were continuing over the material, the bank put its advertising with the Guardian’s parent company, Guardian News and Media, “on pause”.

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  1. The Torygraph still has a print edition read by a lot of Little Englanders who actually pay their taxes. They don’t want to read about the posh people who cheat on their taxes, aided and abetted by HSBC. Not important at all.

    (Incidentally only 1 of the 1000 British people who were revealed to be hiding their money in Switzerland has been charged with tax fraud. Funny that.)

You should never underestimate how far bankers will go to game the system

Posted on November 14th, 2014 at 14:53 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


This time, it’s a $4.2 billion fine. That’s how much UBS, HSBC, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and the Royal Bank of Scotland are collectively paying to U.S., U.K., and Swiss regulators for rigging the foreign-exchange, or FX, market.

Just another day on Wall Street.

This latest malfeasance was something regulators hadn’t worried about before, because they didn’t think it was possible. The $5.3 trillion FX market, you see, should be far, far too big for any one bank to profitably manipulate it or front-run their clients. And it is. The problem, though, is that big banks have just colluded instead for the past decade. Traders at supposedly competing firms worked together to rig the benchmark FX rates in their favor. They deliberately triggered clients’ stop-loss orders—the price they’d automatically sell at to limit losses—to boost their own profits. Along with revealing what trades their customers were about to make, which would let them all make it first.

And, of course, the bankers set up chatrooms charmingly named things like “the 3 musketeers” where they planned all this out in semi-grammatical English. “I’d prefer we join forces” to try to push the price of the euro up, one trader said. “Perfick,” the other replied. “Let’s double team them.”

The lesson is that, with so much money at stake, you should never underestimate how far bankers will go to game the system.

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Euro sell-off after report ECB looking at corporate bond buys

Posted on October 21st, 2014 at 20:01 by Paul Jay in category: News, Robber Barons


(Reuters) – The euro fell sharply against the dollar on Tuesday after Reuters reported the European Central Bank was looking at buying corporate bonds as soon as December in its efforts to revive the stagnating euro zone economy.

The move, if realized, would expand the private-sector asset-buying program the ECB began on Monday, adding to the number of new euros the bank can put into circulation without politically controversial purchases of government bonds.

“Headlines on the market today about the ECB potentially buying corporate bonds has reinvigorated attention on the downside for the euro,” said Richard Cochinos, head of Americas G10 FX strategy at Citi in New York.

“What the headlines have done is remind the market that essentially policy is dynamic and alternative options could potentially be considered,” he said.



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Wall St. Bankrolls Ex-Executive as He Sues Over A.I.G. Bailout

Posted on September 24th, 2014 at 19:37 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


One might call it “chutzpah,” as several irate lawmakers did, or “rubbing salt in the wounds” of the American taxpayer. But to a few Wall Street financiers, a lawsuit that accuses the government of shortchanging the American International Group in its 2008 bailout is something else: a promising investment in a cause they support.

Maurice R. Greenberg, 89, the former A.I.G. chief executive who still holds a large stake in the insurance company, filed the lawsuit on behalf of fellow shareholders. He has now raised several million dollars from three Wall Street companions to help cover the cost of the case. The investors, who are entitled to a cut of any damages Mr. Greenberg collects from the government, contributed about 15 percent of the tens of millions of dollars in legal costs, according to people with knowledge of the arrangement.


The lawsuit, which seeks more than $40 billion from the government, does not dispute that A.I.G. needed a $182 billion lifeline to survive the financial crisis. It instead challenges the onerous nature of the rescue. The government took what became a 92 percent stake in the company — a step it did not pursue with other bailed-out Wall Street giants — imposed a steep interest rate and steered billions of dollars to the insurer’s trading partners. Those decisions, the suit says, cheated A.I.G. shareholders and violated the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of private property for “public use, without just compensation.”

Well, let’s get established that a “just compensation” for those who caused the crisis in 2008 is a bullet in the head. That should end the lawsuit pretty damn quick.

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  1. “Well, let’s get established that a “just compensation” for those who caused the crisis in 2008 is a bullet in the head. That should end the lawsuit pretty damn quick.”

    To sort of quote Jon Stewart, “Do you know how I know we live in the greatest country in the world? Because in any other country, these people would have been lined up and shot!”

    The Lord still helps those best who take a big helping for themselves.

After 13 Years Of Fighting For Wall Street, Eric Cantor Will Make Millions At An Investment Bank

Posted on September 3rd, 2014 at 0:15 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who resigned last month after losing renomination to an underfunded college professor, spent much of his 13-plus years in the U.S. Congress advancing the agenda of Wall Street investment firms. This week, he announced that he will be joining a Wall Street investment bank as its new vice chairman.

Cantor will be joining Moelis & Co., the investment bank said, to “provide strategic counsel to the Firm’s corporate and institutional clients on key issues,” to “play a leading role in client development,” and to “advise clients on strategic matters.” The announcement press release praised Cantor as a “leading voice on the economy and job creation,” who worked in Congress “to lower taxes, eliminate excessive regulation, strengthen small businesses, and encourage entrepreneurship.” The deal reportedly includes a $1.4 million signing bonus and at least a $2 million annual compensation package.

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  1. Where else can you find people with that much experience screwing the people?

The Biggest Tax Scam Ever: How Corporate America Parks Profits Overseas, Avoiding Billions in Taxes

Posted on August 29th, 2014 at 14:28 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


As Burger King heads north for Canada’s lower corporate tax rate, we speak to Rolling Stone contributing editor Tim Dickinson about his new article, “The Biggest Tax Scam Ever.” Dickinson reports on how top U.S. companies are avoiding hundreds of billions of dollars by parking their profits abroad — and still receiving more congressionally approved incentives. Dickinson writes: “Top offenders include giants from high-tech (Microsoft, $76 billion); Big Pharma (Pfizer, $69 billion); Big Oil (Exxon­Mobil, $47 billion); investment banks (Goldman Sachs, $22 billion); Big Tobacco (Philip Morris, $20 billion); discount retailers (Wal-Mart, $19 billion); fast-food chains (McDonald’s, $16 billion) – even heavy machinery (Caterpillar, $17 billion). General Electric has $110 billion stashed offshore, and enjoys an effective tax rate of 4 percent – 31 points lower than its statutory obligation to the IRS.”


And small business is not benefiting from all these tax games that multinationals are able to play, and they’re having to compete with these companies here.


So, Apple has this amazing deal, where they’ve got essentially a shadow company in Ireland. And it’s incorporated in Ireland, but for Irish purposes, it’s an American company, and for American purposes, it’s an Irish company. And so you end up with this black hole of taxation where in fact this Apple subsidiary files a tax return to no government in the world. And so, it can use all kinds of accounting tricks to funnel money to this company, and they sit there essentially absolutely untaxed. Just there’s no tax return. And so you have billions of dollars sitting there. And again, when Apple needs billions of dollars to fund its American operations, it has bond offerings, and its cost of borrowing here in the United States is incredibly low. Just investors are virtually paying Apple to raise this money, because it’s secured by these massive piles of cash, technically abroad, although they’re actually banked reportedly in Manhattan.

And any international company NOT doing this would be facing shareholder lawsuits over it.

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  1. Oh, the horror! Small companies that don’t do business overseas do not get tax loopholes on overseas profits! Horrors!

    Every single American individual is going to take whatever tax deduction they legally can. And yet they’ll whine when companies do the same thing. Can we PLEASE start shaming politicians for not closing the legitimate loopholes instead of shaming companies for legally lowering their tax bills? And shame journalists for these lousy articles?

  2. And here I was reading “we need to level the playing field world wide and close these loopholes” in the line about small business…

  3. The problem is the companies control congress and have these loopholes written into the tax code. Individuals don’t have that kind of power.

  4. I’m all for leveling the playing field. I’m also for disabling some of these constructions. But if large company A has a subsidiary in China and makes money there and leaves that money abroad rather than repatriating it and paying taxes on it, how does that affect the competition between A and smaller company B back here in the US?

  5. And plenty of other examples… This is something that can likely only be resolved by having a single world-wide tax on these kind of things. And the can of worms you open when you do that…. oh boy.

  6. A single world-wide tax isn’t going to happen. Based on the pain resulting from the Euro, I think there’s an easy argument to make that it’s not even desirable. And I think for the sake of diversity and experimentation alone it’s worth having different tax regimes in different countries, or at least the possibility thereof.

    I don’t know how to solve the corporate tax-haven problem. I’m tempted to conclude that the solution is the same as the solution to music/movie piracy: make it cheap and easy to conform to the desired behavior. This may mean shifting the tax burden to different places (e.g. VAT, carbon tax, …?).

  7. no, I don’t have a solution either… it’s difficult enough to not let companies externalize any costs, let alone do a good honest tax…

DOJ Allows Bank of America to Deduct $12 Billion of $17 Billion Settlement

Posted on August 23rd, 2014 at 10:55 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


BOA Logo (2014)Bank of America will pay roughly $4 billion less to the government after-tax than the $16.65 billion it agreed to in a settlement over soured mortgage securities, because parts of the settlement will be tax deductible, the bank said Thursday.

The bank has already taken some of the savings from the settlement’s tax deductions in previous quarters, so the savings won’t all come in the current third quarter. But tallying the total tax savings to roughly $4 billion “would be fair,” a bank spokesman said.

Federal law allows companies to deduct large portions of the costs of settling with federal agencies on their tax returns. But that effectively shifts part of the settlement’s burden to taxpayers, and some lawmakers and consumer advocates have expressed concerns that the public can be misled when regulators tout giant settlement amounts that companies aren’t fully paying. …

Fines and penalties imposed as part of a settlement can’t be deducted, so that knocks out the $5.02 billion in fines Bank of America agreed to pay. But other amounts paid can be deducted as ordinary business expenses—including the $4.63 billion in compensatory payments that Bank of America agreed to pay, and the costs it incurs in providing $7 billion in mortgage modifications for struggling homeowners and other consumer relief.

So there you go – fines are just a business expense.

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  1. Sharing the proceeds of organized crime…

Sen. Elizabeth Warren Asks About Lack of Private Student Loan Relief Options

Posted on August 6th, 2014 at 23:32 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons

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  1. Maybe she can get Israel to pay for it.

Market Rigging Explained

Posted on July 16th, 2014 at 15:21 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


We received trade execution reports from an active trader who wanted to know why his larger orders almost never completely filled, even when the amount of stock advertised exceeded the number of shares wanted. For example, if 25,000 shares were at the best offer, and he sent in a limit order at the best offer price for 20,000 shares, the trade would, more likely than not, come back partially filled. In some cases, more than half of the amount of stock advertised (quoted) would disappear immediately before his order arrived at the exchange. This was the case, even in deeply liquid stocks such as Ford Motor Co (symbol F, market cap: $70 Billion). The trader sent us his trade execution reports, and we matched up his trades with our detailed consolidated quote and trade data to discover that the mechanism described in Michael Lewis’s “Flash Boys” was alive and well on Wall Street.

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  1. So Michael Lewis told the whole world that this was going on and that there’s a new exchange that prevents these shenanigans… so why aren’t people trading over there on the IEX?

  2. Because the “Flash Boys” are doing everything they can to kill the HFT story and keep trades off IEX. And it’s working.

  3. “Kill the HFT story”? Are you kidding? Who does not know about this?

Senator to SEC: Stop granting waivers to law-breaking companies

Posted on June 14th, 2014 at 15:42 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


The main waiver at issue involves “well-known seasoned issuer,” or WKSI, waivers to companies.

A WKSI waiver is a coveted tag that lets companies raise money immediately through securities offerings without waiting for SEC approval.

Companies convicted of crimes or found liable for fraud can lose the status, but the SEC can agree to provide the company a waiver so they retain the WKSI tag.

In April, two SEC commissioners dissented over a waiver granted to the Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc after one of its units struck a criminal plea deal over manipulation of the Libor benchmark interest rate.

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Fast money: the battle against the high frequency traders

Posted on June 14th, 2014 at 15:10 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


A ‘flash crash’ can knock a trillion dollars off the stock market in minutes as elite traders fleece the little guys. So why aren’t the regulators stepping in? We talk to the legendary lawyer preparing for an epic showdown

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Iran hangs billionaire over $2.6b bank fraud

Posted on May 24th, 2014 at 22:56 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


A billionaire businessman at the heart of a $2.6 billion state bank scam, the largest fraud case since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, was executed Saturday, state television reported.Authorities put Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, also known as Amir Mansour Aria, to death at Evin prison, just north of the capital, Tehran, the station reported. The report said the execution came after Iran’s Supreme Court upheld his death sentence.


The fraud involved using forged documents to get credit at one of Iran’s top financial institutions, Bank Saderat, to purchase assets including state-owned companies like major steel producer Khuzestan Steel Co.

Khosravi’s business empire included more than 35 companies from mineral water production to a football club and meat imports from Brazil. According to Iranian media reports, the bank fraud began in 2007.

A total of 39 defendants were convicted in the case. Four received death sentences, two got life sentences and the rest received sentences of up to 25 years in prison.

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  1. I can think of a lot of our “buseness” persons who could be dealt with in a similar matter. The Koch brothers come to mind…

  2. It’s always been the role of the 1% to lead and pillage as recompense. Iran should be careful to not threaten the status quo.

London becomes capital of the world’s super-richest

Posted on May 11th, 2014 at 15:39 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


THE number of billionaires in the UK has exceeded 100 for the first time and London has become home to the highest number of super-rich of any city in the world.

The Sunday Times Super-Rich List, published today, reveals that London has 72 residents whose fortune is more than £1bn, more than Moscow (48) or New York (43). In total the UK boasts 104 billionaires, worth a total of £301bn.

Wow, with so many job creators there, I’m sure there’s total employment!

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  1. Russian oligarchs have gotta put their money somewhere no-one will trouble them.

It’s Good – no – Great to be the CEO Running a Huge Criminal Bank

Posted on April 30th, 2014 at 18:50 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


Every day brings multiple new scandals.  At least they used to be scandals.  Now they’re simply news items strained of ethical content by business journalists who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak not about evil.  The Wall Street Journal, our principal U.S. financial journal ran two such stories today.  The first story deals with tax evasion, and begins with this cheery (and tellingly inaccurate) headline: “U.S. Banks to Help Authorities With Tax Evasion Probe.”  Here’s an alternative headline, drawn from the facts of the article: “Senior Officers of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley Aided and Abetted Tax Fraud by Wealthiest Americans, Failed to Make Required Criminal Referrals, and Demanded Immunity from Prosecution for Themselves and the Banks before Complying with the U.S. Subpoenas: U.S. Department of Justice Caves in to Banker’s Demands Continuing its Practice of Effectively Immunizing Fraud by Most Financial Elites.”

Oh, and the feckless DOJ (again) did not require any officer who committed the felony of aiding and abetting tax fraud to resign or to repay the bonuses he “earned” through his crimes.  But not to worry, the banks – not the bankers – may have to pay fines as the cost of doing their felonious business.  The feckless regulators did not even require Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to disclose to shareholders their participation in the program.

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  1. Couldn’t the DOJ just get an injunction to bar the executives from the banks while they investigate? Surely, no one in their right mind would leave the executives in charge while there’s an ongoing investigation. It would be too easy for them to destroy evidence. The executives are just employees, not owners, they have no rights in these investigations. The corporations has the rights guaranteed by the supremes (pronounce as “a-holes”), not the employees.

  2. @chas – I’m not saying they’re bent but there are suggestions of questionable practices by “the authorities” (admittedly the SEC not DOJ).


BP Exec Who Led Cleanup Settles On Charges Of Insider Trading

Posted on April 21st, 2014 at 13:50 by Paul Jay in category: Robber Barons, They never learn



A former BP executive who led the company’s cleanup of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has agreed to pay $224,000 in penalties and restitution in a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly trading on inside information on the disaster.

SEC regulators say Keith A. Seilhan, 47, a 20-year veteran of BP plc, sold his family’s $1 million portfolio of BP securities after learning that the public estimates of the extent of the Gulf of Mexico spill were grossly underestimated. The regulators say the sale of the stock and options saved Seilhan from more than $100,000 in losses.

Seilhan has agreed to pay a $105,409 civil penalty and the same amount in “ill-gotten gains,” as well as more than $13,000 in prejudgment interest, Reuters says.

Forbes says:

“In his position as Incident Commander [in Houma, La.], Seilhan learned of nonpublic information relating to the seriousness of the disaster, including initial oil flow estimates from the sunken rig that were significantly greater than the public estimate of 5,000 barrels per day. Indeed, those private estimates were between 52,700 and 62,200 barrels per day — a 10x increase than that provided to the public.

“After he learned of this information, Seilhan [liquidated his portfolio.] … By doing so, Seilhan and his family were able to avoid over $100,000 in losses as BP’s share price eventually declined 48%. Later, after BP announced it had successfully capped the well, Seilhan repurchased shares of the BP Stock Fund (composed nearly entirely of BP shares) at a lower basis.”

Mary McNamara, an attorney for Seilhan, said her client wanted to “avoid further distraction and protracted litigation” by settling the matter, according to Reuters.

“Mr. Seilhan is widely respected for his work helping to lead the cleanup and containment efforts in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010,” McNamara added.

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  1. On the bright side, another wicked old basket has popped an artery: Charles Keating has died:


  2. Sue, I don’t know if we can blame just one for being wicked when the whole bunch are wicked. How do you prosecute just one?

Three Expensive Milliseconds

Posted on April 14th, 2014 at 16:28 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


Four years ago Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, abruptly canceled America’s biggest and arguably most important infrastructure project, a desperately needed new rail tunnel under the Hudson River. Count me among those who blame his presidential ambitions, and believe that he was trying to curry favor with the government- and public-transit-hating Republican base.

Even as one tunnel was being canceled, however, another was nearing completion, as Spread Networks finished boring its way through the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. Spread’s tunnel was not, however, intended to carry passengers, or even freight; it was for a fiber-optic cable that would shave three milliseconds — three-thousandths of a second — off communication time between the futures markets of Chicago and the stock markets of New York. And the fact that this tunnel was built while the rail tunnel wasn’t tells you a lot about what’s wrong with America today.

Who cares about three milliseconds? The answer is, high-frequency traders, who make money by buying or selling stock a tiny fraction of a second faster than other players. Not surprisingly, Michael Lewis starts his best-selling new book “Flash Boys,” a polemic against high-frequency trading, with the story of the Spread Networks tunnel. But the real moral of the tunnel tale is independent of Mr. Lewis’s polemic.

Think about it. You may or may not buy Mr. Lewis’s depiction of the high-frequency types as villains and those trying to thwart them as heroes. (If you ask me, there are no good guys in this story.) But either way, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to save three milliseconds looks like a huge waste. And that’s part of a much broader picture, in which society is devoting an ever-growing share of its resources to financial wheeling and dealing, while getting little or nothing in return.

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U.S. bank profits hit all-time high

Posted on February 26th, 2014 at 21:52 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


Not only have the nation’s banks fully recovered from the financial crisis, their bottom lines are now healthier than ever.

On Wednesday, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said profits at U.S. lenders hit an all-time high in 2013. For the year, the nation’s banks made a collective $155 billion. That’s up 10% from a year ago, and it was more than the $148 billion the banks made back in 2006, the last time profits peaked.

For the last three months of 2013, banks made $40.3 billion. That was also an all-time high, and a rebound. Bank profits were down in the second and third quarters of the year.

The FDIC noted a large portion of the bottom line boost, though, came from an accounting maneuver that other regulators have cautioned about.

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  1. I’m not sure that they need to have any reserves to cover future bad loans. I mean, aren’t they highly-regulated state-supported institutions?

    That’s a bit unfair of me, though. Banks are being criticized for not lending out enough of their depositers’ money (hence the profit), but the financial crisis 6-7 years ago was partly caused by too many bad loans. So they presumably conclude that their present loans are less likely to go bad and don’t need to be offset by bad loan provisions.

The Vampire Squid Strikes Again: The Mega Banks’ Most Devious Scam Yet =

Posted on February 22nd, 2014 at 15:17 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


But banks aren’t just buying stuff, they’re buying whole industrial processes. They’re buying oil that’s still in the ground, the tankers that move it across the sea, the refineries that turn it into fuel, and the pipelines that bring it to your home. Then, just for kicks, they’re also betting on the timing and efficiency of these same industrial processes in the financial markets – buying and selling oil stocks on the stock exchange, oil futures on the futures market, swaps on the swaps market, etc.

Allowing one company to control the supply of crucial physical commodities, and also trade in the financial products that might be related to those markets, is an open invitation to commit mass manipulation. It’s something akin to letting casino owners who take book on NFL games during the week also coach all the teams on Sundays.

The situation has opened a Pandora’s box of horrifying new corruption possibilities, but it’s been hard for the public to notice, since regulators have struggled to put even the slightest dent in Wall Street’s older, more familiar scams. In just the past few years we’ve seen an explosion of scandals – from the multitrillion-dollar Libor saga (major international banks gaming world interest rates), to the more recent foreign-currency-exchange fiasco (many of the same banks suspected of rigging prices in the $5.3-trillion-a-day currency markets), to lesser scandals involving manipulation of interest-rate swaps, and gold and silver prices.

But those are purely financial schemes. In these new, even scarier kinds of manipulations, banks that own whole chains of physical business interests have been caught rigging prices in those industries. For instance, in just the past two years, fines in excess of $400 million have been levied against both JPMorgan Chase and Barclays for allegedly manipulating the delivery of electricity in several states, including California. In the case of Barclays, which is contesting the fine, regulators claim prices were manipulated to help the bank win financial bets it had made on those same energy markets.

And last summer, The New York Times described how Goldman Sachs was caught systematically delaying the delivery of metals out of a network of warehouses it owned in order to jack up rents and artificially boost prices.

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  1. Inspirational! Hire the best minds and put them all to work on a multi-generational project for the benefit of mankind… 🙂

Obama’s top Trans-Pacific Partnership officials were given millions by banks before taking the job

Posted on February 21st, 2014 at 9:49 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


The top Obama administration officials working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership came to government from investment banks who will benefit immensely from its provisions, which severely curtail countries’ ability to pass laws regulating banks and other corporations. These top advisors, who came from Bank of America and Citigroup, were given multimillion-dollar exit bonuses when they left their employers for government. For example, the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, was handed $4M from Citigroup as a goodbye gift on his way into his new job.

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  1. But don’t the banks realize there are risks for them too? We all live in the same country. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the snark.

  2. Many large corporations with a strong incentive to influence public policy award bonuses and other incentive pay to executives if they take jobs within the government. CitiGroup, for instance, provides an executive contract that awards additional retirement pay upon leaving to take a “full time high level position with the U.S. government or regulatory body.”

    Look, CitiGroup supports its employees in making the transition to public service by ensuring that the switch to government salaries won’t be too painful. That’s quite generous!

Inside ‘Billionaires Row’: London’s rotting, derelict mansions worth £350m

Posted on February 1st, 2014 at 12:31 by John Sinteur in category: batshitinsane, Robber Barons


A third of the mansions on the most expensive stretch of London’s “Billionaires Row” are standing empty, including several huge houses that have fallen into ruin after standing almost completely vacant for a quarter of a century.

A Guardian investigation has revealed there are an estimated £350m worth of vacant properties on the most prestigious stretch of The Bishops Avenue in north London, which last year was ranked as the second most expensive street in Britain.


But he argued against increasing taxes on unoccupied homes, which he said would be an “annoyance” that would make buyers choose Monte Carlo or Milan instead of London.

So there’s a housing shortage in London, and “people with no economic or cultural ties to the city will move out” is supposed to be a threat?

The rich buying enormous houses so they can sit and rot then complaining people might actually want to tax them for it and threatening to take their “buying an enormous house to sit and rot” business elsewhere is such a breathtakingly good metaphor for the state of the world.

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Goldman Sachs

Posted on January 31st, 2014 at 10:27 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


An estimated 2,500 demonstrators braved the cold and snow this evening to protest against the pending partial sale of state-owned energy provider DONG to US investment firm Goldman Sachs.

Parliament’s Finance Committee is set to vote on the controversial deal tomorrow. If it pass, Goldman Sachs take a 19 percent stake in DONG at a cost of eight billion kroner.


The partial sale of DONG Energy to Goldman Sachs took a shocking turn this morning after Annette Vilhelmsen, the head of government coalition party Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF), announced that she would step down as head of the party and the party would leave the government coalition.

Vilhelmsen called a meeting this morning after she was unable to obtain a consensus in her party on agreeing to the government’s pending DONG/ Goldman Sachs agreement, which is set to be decided on in parliament later today.

“It’s been a dramatic 24 hours. I must admit that there has been disagreement in the party, at a national level and in the parliament group,” Vilhelmsen said at the press conference at Christiansborg. “I couldn’t gather the party.”

Not only is this Goldman Sachs, the 19 percent they are buying are being sold at almost half of it proper evaluation, there where pension funds that where willing to pay more and Goldman Sachs would have veto right despite only owning 19 percent.

It makes you wonder which politicians they paid.

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  1. The dumbing down of the Danes began when they sent troops to join the coalition forces.

  2. Sounds like a Republican to me. I didn’t know they had any socialists in that party.

Combined wealth of the 85 richest people is equal to that of poorest 3.5 billion

Posted on January 20th, 2014 at 9:11 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


Global inequality has increased to the extent that the £1 trillion combined wealth of the 85 richest people is equal to that of the poorest 3.5 billion – half of the world’s population – according to a new report from development charity Oxfam.

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  1. Hey, 200 years ago the top 5 (?) royals probably controlled, what, 80% of the land surface of the Earth? Progress!

    Or, hey, the most egalitarian situation was probably before nation states evolved and all the hunter-gatherers were starving equally!

    The inequality wouldn’t matter if the standard of living of the bottom half were actually decent.

  2. No only that, but things have improved markedly the last fifty years or so. We’ve never been better than today.

    And it’s not good enough.

  3. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Just ask Marie Antoinette.

  4. @John: Here’s a thought experiment I’m curious to get a reaction on. In the book business, the top 10 of authors alone make about half a billion dollars per year [1]. Now, I don’t have stats, but I think we can agree that there are very few authors making a million dollars per year, and tens of thousands who write books but never even get published despite the fact that they may be working just as hard.

    Is this unfair? Should there be some redistribution from successful authors to make it possible for poor, unpaid writers to keep doing their job?

    [1] http://www.parade.com/64073/viannguyen/highest-paid-authorsfifty-shades-e-l-james-beats-stephen-king-j-k-rowling/

  5. Yes, it’s just as unfair, technically speaking. Should there be redistribution?


    This unfairness is not treated equally because it is not a threat to world stability. Income inequality is. As soon as book authors start talking about Marie Antoinette, I will reconsider.

    And yes, I know that is not fair of me.

  6. Only addressing unfairness when it threatens stability seems… cynical?

    I think the thought experiment gets more interesting when you imagine the Writer’s Guild being a democracy that can tax its members’ income. Would they vote to tax the top authors to pay stipends for struggling authors to keep writing?

  7. If being unfair about certain things because the survival of the species is at stake is called cynical, then, yeah, go ahead and call me cynical.

    There’s another problem with your analogy. If a member of the Writer’s Guild disagrees with the taxing decisions of the guild and the way the guild redistributes income between members, there’s always the option of finding a different occupation, writing books isn’t the only game in town. It may not be a practical option in a few cases, and it may also not bring wealth to the defecting member, but the option is real.

    However, when it comes to money, income and wealth, there’s no way to decide to use a different system, current currency systems have no competition. Perhaps we need to colonize a few hundred planets to fix that, but until then, there you are.

    You can stop writing books and start flipping burgers or sweeping floors. It is just about impossible to stop using money.

    If you can’t win because the game is fixed, and there’s no way to stop playing the game, there’s only so much effort you will put into un-fixing the game before you resort to violence.

  8. Some people think this is Fantastic!

  9. RE: cynical — you took that in the opposite direction of the one I expected. It’s not cynical to do this rather than do nothing; it’s cynical (I think) to do but only that necessary to prevent the collapse of civilization rather than more.

    Ah, I forgot to tell you that the Guilds are hard to get into. You can’t just leave your guild and pop over to the janitorial guild. If the guilds let in just anyone, then everyone would run over to the one with the best benefits.

    Sounds more like countries, eh?

    This is where I have my days when I think maybe we should let the Tea Party succeed at strangling the U.S. federal government down to national defense and a few other basics. Then we can move all the rest down to the states and have bigger policy differences between states and have some more experimentation in how different choices work out. But…

  10. Sounds more like countries, eh?

    More than you know. Why is it that capital must be allowed to move around as freely as possible, while people still encounter borders everywhere?

  11. Strange comparison, if you ask me. But OK. Would you personally object to money showing up in your back yard? How about a dozen strangers camping out and making their home there?

  12. Would you personally object to money showing up in your back yard?

    Can I assume you mean quite a lot of money? Not just a fiver? Then yes, I would object, because it is likely to give me huge headaches with money laundering laws and my inability to explain where it came from.

    And those dozen strangers, even if I personally had no objections, would probably quickly run into so many local law ordinances for trying to camp out in my back yard they’d be swiftly kicked out regardless. Now if they’d rented or bought local residences just like everybody else living around here I’d have no trouble at all.

    Free flow of capital does not mean bags of cash dropped in random back yards, just like free flow of people doesn’t mean just setting up tents anywhere.

  13. You’re wiggling out on technicalities rather than engaging in the thought experiment.

    Take as much money as you think you can comfortably launder, and leave the rest for someone else to find. And you evaded the people question with technicalities. It’s not hypothetical. I’ve had homeless people set up camp in my yard before. The only way that runs afoul of ordinances is if I or my neighbor call the police.

    My point was that there’s an asymmetry: people generally welcome cash that arrives. They don’t necessarily welcome strangers, especially when those strangers compete for jobs and housing, or worse, need support to stay alive.

    The restrictions on immigration aren’t a product of evil corporate agenda. Instead, movement of both money and people used to be restricted. Arguments for liberalizing money-flow have won in most places, but arguments for allowing free migration have not. In part, it’s because money is power and gets its way, yes. And in part it’s because the votes don’t exist in any rich democracy to allow free immigration.

  14. I’m not wiggling out of anything, I’m just forcing you to say out loud what you just did say out loud.

    And you’re correct, that is the way it is. And now for the difficult question: how to improve on that situation.

    One way is to make sure the poor people in the world get richer, or at least, less poor.

    So, back to the original article. Apparently you can double the wealth of the poorest half of the world by shooting just 85 people.

    At what point do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

  15. Well, poor countries *are* getting less poor. Recent evaluations of progress towards the Millennium Goals says that we’re doing well on those. And see, notably: http://annualletter.gatesfoundation.org/. Gates predicts true starvation-level poverty will disappear around mid-century.

    But instead of one-time fixes like you posit, the real question, of course, is how you make structural improvements; how you set up and then direct the economy so it creates enough decent-wage jobs yet also enough entrepreneurial incentive, etc. That’s still the hard question. But I suspect here we’re on territory that we violently agree on.

    Back to this, though:

    Why is it that capital must be allowed to move around as freely as possible, while people still encounter borders everywhere?

    So why would you say this is? And more interestingly, what’s your argument for how it should be and why it should be that way?

  16. And more interestingly, what’s your argument for how it should be and why it should be that way?

    Oh boy, that’s indeed the big one, right? I really with I had a simple, straightforward answer to this. Fuck, I would settle for a complicated difficult answer. I have none. Except perhaps that note that income equality, which is why why started this whole thread, is one of the things standing in the way of a solution, or at least standing in the way of improvement.

    Gates is right, things *are* getting better. And I concur – starvation-level poverty is likely to disappear. But * *hate* that it takes until mid-century. Surely we can do better than that (and I promise I will stop calling you shirley), and ranting about income equality, where 85 people have as much money as 50% of the world population, is part of it, because that is one of the many things that need to change, that needs to be done *better* than we (as in, the world, collectively) are currently doing.

    Of those 85 people, how many, apart from Bill Gates, recognize this? How many are actively working, in whatever way, to improve this idiocy? Let me be generous, and count Warren Buffet as well. Who else?

  17. I think a global end to bank deposit secrecy would help. (Not that deposits would become public, but that governments should get insight into the deposits of their own citizens in foreign banks.)

    But the top 85 richest people are beyond that. Their riches are in corporate ownership; the accrual isn’t largely throwing off income that can be taxed.

    Another thing that could help is an inheritance tax of 100% on assets above (say) $1 million. I’ve never heard a compelling reason why people should leave that kind of wealth to their kids. Hard to implement.

    I’ve fantasized in the past about making the top income tax bracket proportional to the level of unemployment, or inversely proportional to the income in the bottom quintile of the population. Hey rich people, if the poor aren’t doing well, we’re going to take it out of your income. Get cracking with that job creation!

    But… back on the claimed problem. Take people like Gates, Ellison, and Bezos. Ignore for a moment that you may object to some of the business practices that made Microsoft big. These guys are on the list because they built hugely successful companies. Their wealth is partly virtual–in shares that aren’t liquid assets. Are their riches part of the wealth inequality problem?

    It’s not even clear to me that you can say that it’s a problem because the money is stagnant (not being spent, not circulating). The money’s invested, it’s not in a savings account.

    I think what I come back around to, again, is that it’s not clear to me that the riches at the top are the problem. The problem is generating enough decent jobs for the bottom half.

  18. I think what I come back around to, again, is that it’s not clear to me that the riches at the top are the problem. The problem is generating enough decent jobs for the bottom half.

    Yes, they are the problem. Take, for example, the dividend Walmart gave to their share holders. If they had cut that in half, the company could have given ALL their employees a salary that would have taken them off all government support such as food stamps. This is a perfect example of one family getting money they don’t need at the expense of thousands of others.

  19. So many possible responses. 🙂

    I do see your point about Wal-Mart. The company seems to be structurally profitable, and 48% of it is owned by the Waltons who therefore rake in half the dividends. It’s within their means to pay their employees better or provide them health insurance. The same can be said for Apple–they’re very profitable, and it’s within their means to make working conditions at Foxconn less stressful.


    First off, people getting money they don’t need… that’s a low bar. You and I have plenty of money we don’t need. What’s the test for whether that money should somehow be diverted?

    Second, the Wal-Mart wage situation isn’t taking money away from that bottom 50% of Earth’s poorest. Any & all Wal-Mart employees are above the world’s median income and wealth. And paying them more won’t do squat for that bottom 50%. The bottom 50% are that poor because there’s nothing vaguely like a Wal-Mart job within 100km of them. (OK, I exaggerate. But probably true for the bottom 10%.)

    Your point may be that this is a pattern that happens everywhere and in any given place keeps the poor poor and makes the rich richer. Except if you read Gates’ letter, you know that’s not true. Globally, the poor are getting less poor. And a good number of people in China and India are better and better off because the evil corporations got to move jobs over there. Without a profit motive, they’d never have bothered. Without allowing more wealth disparity inside China, it would not have happened either.

    Tricky, I think.

    Would it work to complement the minimum wage with a minimum profit sharing law? (i.e. X% of corporate profits have to be paid out to workers or folded into the next year’s salaries, not proportional to current salary but proportional to hours worked or somesuch.) You’d have to prevent outsourcing/restructuring with shell companies.

    (Mexico apparently has a 10% profit sharing law.)

    Finally, some interesting commentary from a variety of angles, collected by Andrew Sullivan.

  20. Comment seen on David Brin’s feed: “You, personally, almost certainly own more than the bottom 1.7 billion people on Earth — you should feel really, really bad about that and give half of what you own to those 1.7B.”

    This isn’t a random pot-shot. There’s something on the order of 1 billion people living on $1-2 a day. That’s a subsistence level where you don’t own anything of any value. Each of us here owns more than that bottom BILLION people on earth do together.

  21. This isn’t a random pot-shot

    No, but it is a distraction from the basic point. If you want to solve ALL income disparity he’s right, but that’s not the goal. Solving TOO BIG income disparity is. It’s like saying a middle level manager at a large company makes more than the tea lady, so therefore we shouldn’t talk about the multimillion dollar bonus that the CEO got.

  22. That’s just a matter of spin. The question exactly is What’s too big?, and your only answer is “I know it when I see it”.

  23. No, I am merely pointing at things where I think it is too big. What is acceptable for a society is not for me to decide, so that’s about all I can do.

Boris Johnson invokes Thatcher spirit with greed is good speech

Posted on November 30th, 2013 at 16:07 by Sueyourdeveloper in category: Robber Barons


Boris Johnson has launched a bold bid to claim the mantle of Margaret Thatcher by declaring that inequality is essential to fostering “the spirit of envy” and hailed greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity”. In an attempt to shore up his support on the Tory right, as he positions himself as the natural successor to David Cameron, the London mayor called for the “Gordon Gekkos of London” to display their greed to promote economic growth…

In highly provocative remarks, Johnson mocked the 16% “of our species” with an IQ below 85 as he called for more to be done to help the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130. 

The lovely Boris, 49, in the most difficult decision of his life, decides he’ll say nice things to rich people.

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  1. He looks like the Mad Hatter.

  2. He makes Mayor Rob Ford look fat and unattractive. But we all do.

  3. Actually, it’s Rob Ford who makes Rob Ford look fat and unattractive…

Nobody Should Shed a Tear for JP Morgan Chase

Posted on October 26th, 2013 at 19:28 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


A lot of people all over the world are having opinions now about the ostensibly gigantic $13 billion settlement Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan Chase have entered into with the government.

The general consensus from most observers in the finance sector is that this superficially high-dollar settlement – worth about half a year’s profits for Chase – is an unconscionable Marxist appropriation. It’s been called a “robbery” and a “shakedown,” in which red Obama and his evil henchman Eric Holder confiscated cash from a successful bank, as The Wall Street Journal wrote, “for no other reason than because they can and because they want to appease their left-wing populist allies.”


This is Madoff all over again, only on a much huger scale. Ten years from now, bet on it, the Wall Street Journal will be denouncing everyone from Eric Holder to Lanny Breuer to the SEC and DOJ officials in the Bush administration for failing to protect investors from predatory companies like Bear Stearns, Washington Mutual and their parent, JP Morgan Chase.

Right now, however, these papers are still stuck in the denial phase, which is to be expected, I suppose. But it doesn’t mean we have to take these ridiculous editorials about Chase’s victimhood seriously.

A few more notes on the deal. This latest settlement reportedly came about when CEO Jamie Dimon picked up the phone and called a high-ranking lieutenant of Attorney General Holder, who was about to hold a press conference announcing civil charges against the bank. The Justice Department meekly took the call, canceled the presser, and worked out this hideous deal, instead of doing the right thing and blowing off the self-important Wall Street hotshot long used to resolving meddlesome issues with the gift of his personal attention.

Only on Wall Street does the target of a massive federal investigation pick up the telephone and call up the prosecutor expecting to make the thing go away – and only in recent American history would such a tactic actually work.

Considering the scale of the offenses involved (one could make the argument that Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual by themselves did enough damage and cranked out enough toxic loans to cause the 2008 crash) the state could have taken the hardest of hard lines. Instead, they once again took a big fat check to walk away.

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Banks and tax evasion: The fall-out from Falciani

Posted on October 21st, 2013 at 9:23 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


A 41-YEAR-OLD native of Monaco increasingly looks to be to banking what Edward Snowden is to American surveillance. In 2008 Hervé Falciani walked out of the Geneva branch of HSBC where he’d worked for three years, clutching five CD-Roms containing data on tens of thousands of account holders. The theft has lobbed a bomb into Europe’s private-banking market, spawning raids and tax-evasion investigations across the continent. In the latest, 90 Belgian agents swooped on the homes of two dozen HSBC clients this week, including several diamond dealers in Antwerp.Mr Falciani went on the run when the Swiss charged him with data theft. After moving to Spain he was jailed, but freed after a judge denied a Swiss extradition request. At one point, he claims, he was kidnapped by Mossad agents who wanted a peek at the client names. He has now taken refuge in France, where the government has offered him protection in return for assisting in its hunt for tax dodgers.

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  1. Ooh, this heart-throb should totally be played by Johnny Depp in the movie…

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