Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Thousands of British expats are on the brink of losing everything after being duped by unscrupulous financial advisers.


The cowboys have persuaded thousands of  our vulnerable pensioners — many in their 80s and 90s — to give up huge stakes of their property in exchange for investments that will never make a penny. 

The schemes are often sold by rogue financial advisers who exploit weak consumer laws on  the Continent by falsely claiming to be bona  fide accountants.

Most of the victims are Britons who retired to Spain or France and wanted to use the cash in their homes to help with soaring living costs. 

John Parsons, founder of the Costa del Sol Action Group that is helping some of the victims in Spain, says: ‘The effect of all this worry is enormous. The stress has brought on a lot of serious health issues and they are extremely worried about their futures.

‘These people were not greedy or stupid. They were on fixed pensions and being financially squeezed, so jumped at the possibility of solving that situation.’

The latest crisis follows a Money Mail  investigation in 2008, which exposed how hundreds of British pensioners living on the Costa del Sol had gambled their homes in a risky equity-release scheme run by failed Icelandic bank Landsbanki.

Now we can reveal how thousands more pensioners have fallen for other risky equity-release schemes on the Continent and are being hounded by banks demanding hundreds of thousands of pounds.



During the property boom at the start of this century, around 100,000 pensioners left Britain to live out their days in southern France and Spain — attracted by a warmer climate and cheaper way of life.

Many had a small pension, but hundreds of thousands of pounds from the sale of their UK home, which had soared in value over their lifetime.

This money was used to supplement their incomes and buy a new home abroad. But soon after they moved, the cost of living in some areas soared as hundreds of thousands of Britons and Germans bought second homes.

Many pensioners found they needed extra cash, and became easy prey for unregulated financial advisers who had left Britain to tap into the new wealth in these regions. 

Local rules meant they were able to act unchecked, selling investments from banks based anywhere in the world.

Sometimes they claimed to be chartered accountants, but were not — many had never even registered with local authorities. 

In Spain in particular, these advisers could largely sell whatever they wanted — including types of investments and equity-release schemes outlawed in the UK. These paid handsome commissions that could net advisers a £50,000 payday.

Banks offering equity-release loans included Icelandic bank Landsbanki, Scandinavian banks Nordea and Sydbank, and UK private bank Rothschild. However, Money Mail understands they are not the only banks involved.

The majority of victims were told they could borrow the entire value of their property. The loan would incur interest, typically of up to 6.5 per cent. It meant that after ten years, a €500,000 (£412,667) loan would balloon to €681,240 (£562,251). To offset this, a large chunk — usually around 75 per cent of the loan — would be invested in a fund sold by the adviser. 

Pensioners were told returns would be so good that not only would they cover the interest on the equity release, but give the borrowers a little extra to spend.


But the promises made turned out to be very different to the theory. This meant returns did not cover the cost of the interest repayments on the equity release. 

As the fund fell in value, it ate into the capital that borrowers needed to repay the debt. Charges for fund managers and commission also reduced the returns further. 

Worse was to follow when house prices in Spain fell. They had risen by 44 per cent between 2004 and 2008, when many of the victims had bought their homes. They have since plummeted by around 20 per cent.

Those who had borrowed almost all of their property value were soon in negative equity — where the value of the property value was less than the money owed on it — leaving them unable to sell to clear their debt. 

In theory the borrowers were expected to pay off their loan at the end of four years. But because the value of the investments plunged so low, it triggered small print in the equity-release contract that allowed banks to demand repayment early.

In the case of those expats with Landsbanki, the bank collapsed and the investment fund was snatched by company liquidators. Then a further problem struck — the value of the pound plunged against the euro. 

Many of the victims were paid pensions in pounds and relied on converting the money into euros every month. The drop meant the value of their pensions fell by a third.


Campaigners estimate thousands of British pensioners have lost money through these schemes. Former actress Julia Hilling, 88, fears her home will be swallowed up in repayments to her mortgage from Rothschild Bank.

She was sold the mortgage in 2005 by a Malaga-based British financial adviser. Today, this company is classed as unauthorised by the Spanish authorities. Her property was valued at €300,000 (£249,966) and she took out a loan for €262,000 (£217,827). Around €17,000 (£14,138) was used for living expenses and she put €245,000 (£203,693) in an investment fund. 

Tempted: Julia Hilling, pictured was an actress in the 1940s, says she went for a scheme because she needed to pay bills

Tempted: Julia Hilling, pictured was an actress in the 1940s, says she went for a scheme because she needed to pay bills

Mrs Hilling, who starred in musicals in the Forties and in revues with Sir Bruce Forsyth at the Windmill Theatre, London, had never invested or even had a mortgage before. 

Since 2005, the fund has plunged by around a third and will no longer cover her mortgage. She owes €330,000 (£274,362) and the debt continues to grow. Mrs Hilling says she is unable to cover these costs and fears the bank will take her property when she dies.

‘I needed the money desperately to pay everyday bills while I was out here, as I didn’t want to rely on my family,’ she says. 

Rothschild told Money Mail it would not repossess Mrs Hilling’s home. It stressed it had not sold the investment to her and was not demanding repayment nor had it paid commission. It urged her to contact the bank. 

Another victim is Eric Mould, 64, who after a career in sales moved to a seaside villa in Puerto Banus, near Malaga, in 2007. He and his wife Mary, 60, sold their four-bedroom detached house in the UK to buy a three-bedroom villa with a swimming pool for €1,188,000 (£990,000).

But five years later they are living in a friend’s flat in the town and battling to pay €2,100 (£1,745) a month in mortgage repayments to Danish bank Nykredit.

Shortly after arriving in Spain, the couple borrowed €1 million against their villa with the bank. They say the British financial adviser who sold them the equity-release mortgage told them it would be a ‘win-win’ situation.

They were told they could free up hundreds of thousands of pounds from the mortgage, and the fund would pay off the loan. They believed the investment they were sold separately through Danish bank Sydbank would leave a little extra to boost their pensions.

To cover the mortgage, the Moulds have rented out their dream home. Their friend is letting them live rent-free in the apartment. The couple fear it is only a matter of time before their home is repossessed. And because property values have dropped, they could lose up to €300,000 (£249,966)

‘This has totally devastated us. It is heart-breaking — we face losing the home we worked for a lifetime to buy,’  says Mr Mould. 

Sydbank would not comment on  the case.

Others who took out equity-release schemes with collapsed Icelandic bank Landsbanki have been told it will settle — as long as they pay part of the money owed, in some cases hundreds of thousands of pounds.

One couple, Linda and Frances Barlow, aged 63 and 75, who live in Nice in the south of France, believe the bank’s liquidators will repossess their home by May unless they stump up €1.3 million (£1.08 million).

The liquidators proposed a compromise deal, but it would have required the couple to find €500,000, which they do not have.

The Barlows took only a small proportion of the loan as cash. The rest was invested by the bank, and lost when it collapsed in 2008.

‘We wanted some cash to renovate,’ says Mrs Barlow, a musician from London. ‘We didn’t want to take out a big loan, but the financial adviser told us we were foolish to be sitting on an asset and that we should get an equity release to have an income. Now we are going to lose everything.’

Pensioners fight to keep their homes

Scores of pensioners have launched legal action against the banks and financial advisers who sold them the loans. Solicitor Antonio Flores, of Spanish law firm Law Bird, who is representing some of them, says: ‘Many people are left with huge bills and in fear of losing their homes.’

In February, the European Commission announced plans for an independent ombudsman to deal with mis-selling cases against financial advisers working in the Costa del Sol.

Meanwhile, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued official warnings about mortgage schemes advertised as a way of cutting tax bills.

Any expats thinking of signing up to an equity-release scheme in Spain should check the company is registered with the agency in charge of the Spanish stock market, the Comision Nacional del Mercado de Valores (CNMV).

It will also provide a list of companies that are not authorised to operate in Spain and those that have warnings issued against them. 

Remember to seek independent legal advice before signing a contract.

If you believe you have been a victim of a fraud involving an equity-release scheme, then register a statement with the police.

Seek independent legal advice about taking action through the courts.

If you wish to complain about the performance of your investments, you should first complain to the equity-release company.

After two months, if you are not happy with the response, take your complaint to the Spanish Investors’ Complaints Office: Oficina de Atención al Inversor, Miguel Ángel 11, 28010 Madrid. 

There is also an office at Paseo de Gràcia, 19, 4ª Planta, 08007 Barcelona.


Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Easter airport 'gridlock' warning


Airlines have warned the Home Secretary that Britain "risks gridlock" at airports including Heathrow and Gatwick over the Easter break due to staff shortages. More than 370,000 passengers will leave Heathrow airport between Good Friday and Easter Monday, and 200,000 will pass through Gatwick. A spokesman for Heathrow owner BAA told the Daily Telegraph: "Immigration waiting times during peak periods at Heathrow are currently unacceptable and we have called on the UK Border Force to address the problem as a matter of urgency. "There isn't a trade-off between strong border security and a good passenger experience. UK Border Force should be delivering both." Meanwhile, Britons attempting to travel by rail and road face delays because of engineering works taking place on motorways and train lines. Stretches of the M1 and M25 will be affected, and the seven million passengers travelling by train over the weekend will see disruption to travel to and from Euston, King's Cross, Liverpool Street, and Waterloo stations in London. British Airways and Virgin Airlines are among 11 firms that have written to Theresa May in anticipation of "unacceptable" delays to hundreds of thousands of passengers travelling over the long weekend. The UK Border Agency is under fire for a lack of staff able to carry out full security checks, which the airlines say must result in a recruitment drive or the relaxing of some of the more stringent measures currently in place. A spokeswoman for Virgin Airlines said: "While the decision on what level of check should be made at the border is, of course, a matter for Government, we are concerned that there is currently a mismatch between policy and resource. "After years of reducing frontline staff, returning to a 100% check system will undoubtedly mean lengthy queues at UK airports over critical holiday periods such as Easter and the Diamond Jubilee."

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Legal High Mexxy, Alternative To Ketamine, To Be Outlawed


legal high known as "mexxy" is to be outlawed, the Government has announced. It follows concerns that two people whose bodies were found in Leicestershire in February may have taken some form of the drug after buying it over the internet. Methoxetamine, or mexxy, will initially be made illegal for 12 months while Government advisers decide whether to ban it completely. Crime Prevention Minister Lord Henley said: "Making this drug illegal sends a clear message to users and those making and supplying it that we are stepping up our fight against substances which are dangerous and ruin the lives of victims and their families. "But making drugs illegal is only part of the solution. "It is important for users of these harmful substances to understand that just because they are described as legal highs, it does not mean they are safe or should be seen as a 'safer' alternative to illegal substances." Anyone caught making, supplying or importing the drug faces up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine. Under the change in law, police and border officials will also have new powers to search or detain anyone they suspect of having the drug and seize, keep or dispose of a substance they suspect is methoxetamine. After its growing use as a party drug, the Home Office referred mexxy to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) for its views on controlling it earlier this month. The drug, used as an alternative to ketamine, is widely available on the internet. Its effects include a faster heart rate, hallucinations, hypertension, loss of balance, higher blood pressure, agitation and cardiovascular conditions. Tests by the ACMD also found evidence that use of methoxetamine can lead to "significant additional toxicity". Professor Les Iversen, chairman of the ACMD, said: "The evidence shows that the use of methoxetamine can cause harm to users."

Monday, 26 March 2012

Russian shot in UK was due to give evidence


Russian banker shot five times close to London's financial district had been days away from giving evidence to an investigation into the attempted murder of a former business associate, his lawyer has said. German Gorbuntsov, who at the height of his business empire owned four Russian banks, was walking towards his apartment block near the Canary Wharf banking district when a gunman opened fire on Tuesday evening, leaving him badly injured. London police said on Saturday they were keeping an open mind about the motive of the attack. Gorbuntsov's lawyer, Vadim Vedenin, said the 45-year-old remained in a medically induced coma to give him a chance to recover, and that doctors were hoping to revive him in about three days. Vedenin said his client had been due to give evidence before the end of the month to an investigation by Russian prosecutors into the attempted murder of another Russian banker and former business associate of Gorbuntsov's, Alexander Antonov, in 2009. "He was preparing to give evidence on certain people. He has already given it in written form and he was going to do so in official testimony," Vedenin said by phone on Saturday, adding that Gorbuntsov had come to London because he feared for his life. The attack occurred outside the door of a block of high-end serviced apartments a short walk from the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. A member of the building's staff, who declined to give his name, said he heard no shots, but ran outside when he heard frantic shouting. "He is a customer here. He was still alive. He spoke to us in Russian. I understood what he was saying," the member of staff, a Polish man, said. "He was swearing a lot." LONDON RUSSIANS London is home to thousands of Russian business people seeking capital, prestige and, in many cases, a haven from the rough and tumble of their home country's financial world. Alexander Antonov made his career in the nuclear industry, then became its banker as owner of Konversbank, a financial institution founded to serve the nuclear industry about two decades ago. Antonov said he and Gorbuntsov had disagreed over the terms of a bank sale just before the debt crisis of 2008, but that there had been no acrimony. "Our relationship is friendly, and it has always been friendly," he told Reuters. "I have a great personal interest in his testimony." The attempt on his life in 2009 was linked in Russia to the 2008 murder in Moscow of Ruslan Yamadayev, a powerful opponent of the Kremlin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. The two incidents were tried as a single case and three men were convicted. But the person or persons who ordered the murders was never identified, and the case had lain dormant until this year. Diplomatic relations between Russia and Britain have been tested by a series of disputes involving Russian emigres. Russia has refused to extradite the man suspected of murdering former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko by putting radioactive polonium in his tea in London. Meanwhile London courts have refused to extradite men wanted in Russia, including the Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider turned fierce critic with criminal convictions in Russia. Berezovsky, who says the charges brought against him in Russia are politically motivated, said by telephone from London that he did not know Gorbuntsov personally, nor did he know of any Russian criminals hiding out in London. "One can give differing views, but it is important to understand that, from my not-exactly-dilettantish point of view, there is no place safer than London from Kremlin bandits or from Russian or international criminals," he said. "But that of course is no guarantee they won't get you."

Monday, 19 March 2012

More and more footballers are going bankrupt despite Premier League wages now averaging £1.47 million a year,


More and more footballers are going bankrupt despite Premier League wages now averaging £1.47 million a year, experts have claimed.  Mark Sands, head of bankruptcy at accountancy firm RSM Tenon, said the lavish lifestyles of the players coupled with poor investment choices has led to increased vulnerability. "In 2010 the average salary of a player in the Premier League was £1.47 million, 56 times the average UK wage," Sands told the Birmingham Mail. "But as their wages have increased so have the number who become insolvent. "We have certainly had an increase at RSM Tenon in the past three years. The main reasons for this can be unsustainable consumption, falling incomes after leaving the top flight, poor investment and lack of financial awareness." Last month former England international Lee Hendrie was forced to declare himself bankrupt after racking up debts of more than £200,000 with the taxman, despite earning £24,000 a week at the peak of his career. RSM Tenon stated: "The debts have apparently been a result of a tax scheme Hendrie was advised to enter into which was rejected by HM Revenue & Customs, leaving an unpaid tax bill which led to the petition. “Investments made during his peak years, in properties and film-related partnerships, went bad, leaving no money for Hendrie to turn to when times were tough.” Last year, current Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel was also declared bankrupt after his non-profit US football academy ran up debts of close to £5m.

TOWIE to shoot summer special in Marbella


Sam Faiers and the rest of her TOWIE castmates are apparently jetting off to Spain to film a special this summer. The reality TV stars will be shooting in sunny Marbella - where they holidayed last May - later on this year, reports the Daily Star. Speaking at the Tric Awards, Sam said the special will need "lots of dramas, a fight and maybe a wedding." Co-star Gemma Collins, who was snapped soaking up the rays in a black bikini during last year's trip, said the group are "all up for it". "We've been begging for a summer special in Marbella for a while," she said.

Could abolishing tax havens solve Africa's financing needs?


The past month, the spotlight has been on James Ibori, the governor of Nigeria's Delta state from 1999 to 2007, who pleaded guilty at in a London court to 10 counts relating to conspiracy to launder funds from the state he governed. Ibori was accused of siphoning off an estimated $250m and laundering it in London through a number of offshore companies and financial intermediaries to fund his extravagant lifestyle of lavish mansions, expensive cars and private jets. This mode of illicit capital flight is by no means restricted to one rogue Nigerian governor or even African leaders at large, nor is it the most important means by which capital leaves the continent (and developing countries generally) illicitly. True, $250m from one source is substantial. But this pales into insignificance compared with the estimated $100bn that left Nigeria illicitly between 1970 and 2008, according to Global Financial Integrity (GFI). The bulk of this haemorrhage, contrary to popular belief, is not through the laundering of corrupt money but through commercial activities, and particularly through multinational corporations. According to GFI's conservative estimates, more than $1.8 trillion left African shores illicitly between 1970 and 2008. Of this, only 3% is attributable to bribery and theft by government officials, 30%-35% results from the laundering of criminally acquired wealth (drugs, illegal arms sales, human trafficking, etc), and the bulk – 65%-70% – is from commercial activities, especially through trade mis-pricing of goods. Over the last 10 years, the average annual outflows of this sort exceeded $50bn. This compares with annual aid inflows of less than $30bn. The outflows are largely to avoid or evade tax and to conceal wealth. This week's proposed change by the chancellor, George Osborne, on how foreign subsidiaries of multinationals based in the UK are taxed, will give even less incentive to keep money in poorer countries. Reform of these controlled foreign company rules in the upcoming budget would strengthen the financial case for shifting money to tax havens by making profits made by multinationals abroad and retained in offshore jurisdictions free from UK tax. This could cost developing countries £4bn a year in lost tax revenue, according to ActionAid estimates. These outflows undermine the rule of law, stifle trade and worsen macroeconomic conditions. They are facilitated by around 60 tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions that enable the creating and operating of millions of disguised corporations, shell companies, anonymous trust accounts and fake charitable foundations. They allow the likes of Ibori and many multinational corporations to cripple Africa financially and politically. Given that about 50% of global trade passes through tax havens, these jurisdictions facilitate trade mis-pricing by making it difficult for documentation to be traced. Transnational companies have the ability to set up multiple trusts and shell companies in these jurisdictions. This is significant because about 60% of global trade takes place between and within multinational companies. Secrecy also attracts criminal activity, and the laundering of corrupt money through concealment of the natural beneficiaries behind shell companies and trusts. Africa is experiencing economic growth, and for the increasing wealth to be channelled to public services, development and the achievement of the millennium development goals by 2015, it is urgent the problem of tax havens as a conduit for illicit outflows is addressed. The high-level panel set up by the African Union, the African Development Bank and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and chaired by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, is a significant step forward – and testifies to the importance of this issue for Africa's development. The ball is now in the court of the rich countries.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

20-STRONG ‘dog squad’ is taking on disobedient dog owners in Marbella.


The pet owners are being targeted in a crack down on those breaking strict bylaws with 440 summonses being issued in just 30 days. The most common offence involved dogs not being kept on leads, while others included owners not clearing up after their animal and dogs not being muzzled. Fines ranged from 75 to 3,000 euros depending on the offence. The most serious breach of the law involved 24 summonses for owning potentially dangerous breeds that weren’t registered or did not have the necessary paperwork.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has earned one of the highest rates of police killings in the world


1939, Alcoholics Anonymous published The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism. That book contained their now-famous 'Twelve-Step Programme' for recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other behavioural problems, which has been applied to issues other than alcohol addiction. The first of the 12 steps towards rehabilitation is to admit that you have a problem; denial that there is a difficulty will almost guarantee that the problem will not go away. On the other hand, admitting that we have a problem is to take the essential first step on the (perhaps long) journey towards the solution or resolution. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has earned one of the highest rates of police killings in the world, while Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world. The suggestion is that the former is a response to the latter: that is, in an effort to 'clear up' the large number of pending murder investigations, the police rid the society of murder suspects by engaging them in 'shoot-outs' from which the suspects do not recover. The official rules of engagement forbid the use of excessive force by the police in the process of apprehending suspects. The police are not allowed to kill a suspect unless the policeman's or someone else's life is in imminent danger - they are not supposed to aim for the head or heart, if a shot in the leg will do the job. Relatively few murder suspects are taken alive by the JCF. Possibly, Jamaican policemen have little confidence in the ability of our justice system to convict apprehended murder suspects, especially those with political connections, and so they might choose to take 'justice' into their own hands, which is, in fact, grave injustice, for even wrongdoers have a right to their day in court. For a fact: despite eyewitness and video evidence, the Jamaican justice system has been unable to convict many policemen of murder, of extrajudicial killings, and efforts to bring murderous policemen to justice have led to the creation of at least four investigative bodies - so far. The old police complaints department at 34 Duke Street never seemed to be able to find any evidence to even charge policemen for murder. I suppose the old maxim is still true: 'Police cannot investigate police.' The 'squaddie mentality' determines that policemen cannot be objective when it comes to dealing with their own. It certainly was not 'independent'. And so in 1993, the Government created the Police Public Com-plaints Authority (PPCA), a body outside the JCF, to investigate JCF members. It had a little investigative capability, but had to rely on JCF detectives to do much of its investigation. The government of the day, sympathetic to the police, set up a body it should have known could not work. It was toothless, compromised by its incestuous relationship with the very body it was set up to investigate. The 'squaddie mentality' trumped external oversight, and in the end it was not 'independent'. here come bsi and others As the number of police killings increased, and in the face of increased criticism, in late 1997 the JCF set up within its own ranks the Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI) to investigate JCF excesses. It did not even pretend to be an independent body, and failed to find evidence against many policemen. 'Police cannot investigate police.' And in 2009, the government set up INDECOM - the Independent Commission of Investigations - independent of the JCF, to try to bring to justice any murderers within the ranks of the police who have been benefiting from the lack of ability of the Force to investigate itself. All of these efforts to establish an entity to bring law and order within the police have been made because the JCF has a problem, about which it is in denial. The JCF has refused to take even Step One towards a resolution by admitting that police kill too many Jamaicans. The Police Federation wishes INDECOM to be as toothless as the PPCA, and as benign as the old complaints department at 34 Duke Street and the BSI. Last Wednesday, Police Federation Chairman Constable Franz Morrison called for the resignation of the INDECOM head because of his participation in a press conference with human rights lobby Jamaicans for Justice on Tuesday. Constable Morrison says the INDECOM head has been compromised because rank-and-file JCF members are now of the view that INDECOM investigations will no longer be independent. Why does the Police Federation want INDECOM to be independent of concerns about human rights? Take the first step, Constable Morrison! Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

Family alcoholism linked to kid risks


A family history of alcoholism might be a factor in risky choices by teens regarding alcohol use. According to a study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, brain scans of ages 13 to 15 with family histories of alcoholism showed a weaker response in the process of making risky decisions compared to teens without such history. Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging on 31 teens’ brains while they played a game akin to the TV show “Wheel of Fortune.” Of these teens, 18 had family histories of alcoholism. Two areas of the brain responded differently with the teens who had a family history of alcoholism. The brain areas are important for planning, decision-making and response control, according to the study. “Atypical brain activity in regions implicated in executive functioning could lead to reduced cognitive control, which may result in risky choices regarding alcohol use,” the researchers said in a press release.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Michael Jackson's entire back catalogue, including previously unreleased material from his sessions for 'Bad', 'Off The Wall' and 'Thriller', has apparently been stolen by computer hackers.


Michael Jackson's entire back catalogue, including previously unreleased material from his sessions for 'Bad', 'Off The Wall' and 'Thriller', has apparently been stolen by computer hackers. Sony Music paid the late singer's estate over $250 million (£158 million) for the back catalogue in 2010 and released the first swathe of tracks from it at the end of that year with the posthumous album 'Michael'. According to The Sunday Times, the tracks stolen include duets with Black Eyed Peas mainman will.i.am and Queen's late frontman Freddie Mercury. A source told the paper: "Everything Sony purchased from the Michael Jackson estate was compromised. It caused them to check their systems and they found the breach. There was a degree of sophistication. Sony identified the weakness and plugged the gap." Sony themselves have not commented on the leak or confirmed exact details of what was taken. Jackson died at the age of 50 from an overdose of the anaesthetic propofol. Last November, his physician Dr Conrad Murray was convicted of his involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison. However, last month (February 23) it was reported that Murray was appealing his sentence and was claiming that Jackson was so concerned about his finances that he recklessly self-administered a fatal dose of the drug Propofol.

Australian facing drug death penalty in Malaysia


AN AUSTRALIAN man is facing the death penalty after being arrested in Malaysia for allegedly trying to sell methamphetamine. Malaysian police have confirmed a West Australian man ''tentatively charged'' with trying to sell 225g of methamphetamine could be executed. Malaysian Police Narcotics Supt Nafisah Adam said today that a former Perth man, 32, was being held in custody, along with three local men. They were all arrested on Thursday over a string of alleged drug offences. Supt Nafisah said the Australian man had been caught with a large quantity of methamphetamine ''in his hands'' at a coffee shop in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. He added that a search of his nearby house had uncovered a ''smaller volume'' of drugs and led to the arrests of three local men. Under Malaysian law, a person convicted of possessing more than 50g of methamphetamine is declared a drug trafficker and faces a mandatory death sentence. Supt Nafisah said the arrests were part of an ongoing anti-drugs operation, and that the men had been under surveillance for some time before their arrests. ''It's part of a team of investigation that was carried out,'' she said. While the Australian and the other men had been ''tentatively charged'', official charges could follow chemical analysis of the seized substances. ''He is being held and tentatively we will charge him, but it depends on the contents of the substance on him,'' Supt Nafisah said. ''But I can say (if the drugs are confirmed), definitely he will be charged.'' Supt Nafisah said under Malaysian law, the men could be held in custody for up to 14 days without charge while police continued to investigate them. They are expected to initially appear in a magistrates court in Kuala Lumpur, but could be transferred to a higher court if serious charges are laid. ''If it's confirmed drugs, his case will be transferred to a higher court,'' Supt Nafisah said. ''Yes, they could face the death penalty if convicted.'' Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed today that the Australian man had been arrested on March 1. ''Malaysian authorities arrested a 32-year-old Australian man from Western Australia for allegedly selling methamphetamines,'' a DFAT spokesperson said in Canberra. ''Consular officials in Kuala Lumpur are seeking access in order to offer consular assistance to the man. ''It is possible that he will be charged with Trafficking in Dangerous Drugs, Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which carries a mandatory death penalty upon conviction.'' The Australian's father was reported to have said he was unaware of his son's arrest and had not been able to contact him recently. It is believed that until six months ago, he had lived with his father in the southern Perth suburb of Success, but had then moved into an apartment in the central suburb of Mt Lawley. Malaysian police federal narcotics director Noor Rashid Ibrahim was reported as saying the Australian man intended to smuggle drugs back to Australia. Supt Nafisah said she was not aware if the man's father planned to travel to Malaysia to see his son. Malaysia has executed three Australians for drug offences in recent decades. Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers were hanged in July 1986, followed by Michael McAuliffe in June 1993. Asked about the case today, Acting Foreign Minister Craig Emerson declined to go into details. ''We will provide, as we always do, every consular assistance to every Australian citizen but beyond that, it would be wrong for me to speculate about the nature and causes of the apprehension of this man,'' Dr Emerson told reporters in Canberra. ''Let the justice system take its course.''

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Paul Conroy claimed to be 'safe' in Lebanon after being smuggled out of Homs


Conroy, a British photographer working for the Sunday Times, and Bouvier, a French correspondent for Le Figaro, were reported to have travelled safely out of Syria overnight and were in Lebanon on Tuesday morning. "We've just had word from Beirut," said Mr Conroy's father, Les, on Tuesday morning. They are understood to have been smuggled out of a besieged enclave of Homs by the Syrian opposition. However, there were conflicting reports over whether they had been successfully evacuated. Miles Amoore, Sunday Times correspondent in Afghanistan, tweeted that they were still in the Baba Amr area of Homs. Both journalists suffered leg injuries last Wednesday during a barrage that killed Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times and Remi Ochlik, a French photographer.

Barclays Bank told by Treasury to pay £500m avoided tax


Barclays Bank has been ordered by the Treasury to pay half-a-billion pounds in tax which it had tried to avoid. Barclays was accused by HM Revenue and Customs of designing and using two schemes that were intended to avoid substantial amounts of tax. The government has taken the unusual step of introducing retrospective legislation to end such "aggressive tax avoidance" by financial institutions. Tax rules forced the bank to tell the authorities about its plans. The government has closed the schemes to retrieve £500m of lost tax and safeguard payments of billions of more tax in the future. BBC business editor Robert Peston has been told by Barclays that it is surprised by HMRC's reaction to the two schemes, which it believed to be in line with those used by other banks. Our business editor says it is highly embarrassing for Barclays, because Britain's big banks have all signed a code committing them not to engage in tax avoidance. However, he adds that Barclays may end up paying no more than £150m of additional tax. 'Decision justified' Announcing the crackdown, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke, said the bank should never have devised the schemes in the first place. Continue reading the main story “ Start Quote All Britain's big banks have signed a code committing them not to engage in tax avoidance” Robert Peston Business editor Read Robert Peston's blog "The bank that disclosed these schemes to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has adopted the Banking Code of Practice on Taxation which contains a commitment not to engage in tax avoidance," he said. "The government is clear that these are not transactions that a bank that has adopted the code should be undertaking. "We do not take today's action lightly, but the potential tax loss from this scheme and the history of previous abuse in this area mean that this is a circumstance where the decision to change the law with full retrospective effect is justified." One tax scheme involved Barclays claiming it should not have to pay corporation tax on profits made when buying back its own IOUs. The second tax avoidance scheme, also designed by Barclays, involved investment funds claiming that non-taxable income entitled the funds to tax credits that could be reclaimed from HMRC. The Treasury described this as "an attempt to secure 'repayment' from the Exchequer of tax that has not been paid". Forced disclosure A Treasury source suggested that outlawing the tax schemes immediately would save the government a further £2bn in tax that would otherwise have been foregone. Continue reading the main story “ Start Quote Banks are simply not going to be able to get away with it” David Gauke Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Barclays disclosed the two schemes to the tax authorities under rules which have been in place since 2004. Anyone, such as a bank, accountant, lawyer or tax adviser, who devises a seemingly legal tax avoidance plan, is obliged to tell the tax authorities about it within a few days of using it or marketing it to clients. More than 2,000 schemes have been disclosed in the past eight years. Mr Gauke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the experience of Barclays showed that the system of compulsory disclosure for legal tax avoidance schemes was working. "They have got caught, they disclosed this information, the HMRC has acted very quickly, there will be no benefit to the bank, they are clearly taking a substantial reputational hit and we have demonstrated that banks are simply not going to be able to get away with it," he said. John Whiting, of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), said: "Quite a few of the disclosures have come from banks in the past." "They are usually intended to sell to others such as clients." Tax obligations The banking code on taxation was first introduced by the Labour government in June 2009. It followed reports that some big banks used large scale tax avoidance schemes involving complex transactions and financial instruments. The code - which was supported by the incoming coalition government the following year - demands that banks which sign ensure that their tax and the tax obligations of their customers are observed. It says they should not go out of their way to avoid tax for themselves or clients. The 15 biggest banks operating in the UK have signed up. 'Treated even-handedly' In a separate development, HMRC said it would appoint a senior official to act as an "assurance commissioner" for any tax deals struck with big companies for more than £100m. The job of the commissioner will be to make sure taxpayers in general do not suffer from any such settlements. The move follows severe criticism last December from MPs on the public accounts committee who denounced HMRC for appearing to cut contentious tax deals with companies such as Vodafone and Goldman Sachs. Lin Homer, the new HMRC chief executive said: "This commissioner will take the role of challenging whether any proposed settlement secured the correct amount of tax efficiently and that taxpayers had been treated even-handedly." "The commissioner will also make sure that the governance procedures have been followed," she added.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin killed in Homs


Marie Colvin, the respected Sunday Times journalist, was killed today alongside French photojournalist Remi Ochlik in Syria. The veteran correspondents were killed by a rocket as they fled the house they were staying in, which was hit during shelling in Homs, a witness told Reuters. Colvin, the only journalist from a British newspaper in the besieged city, had covered conflict for The Sunday Times for the past two decades.  French government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse confirmed the deaths. At least two other Western journalists, and seven activists were reported to have been injured after in excess of ten rockets hit the house. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was investigating reports that a British photographer was also injured in the incident. Yesterday government troops heavily shelled the districts of  Baba Amr, Khaldiyeh and Karm el-Zeytoun  in Homs, which is considered to be a stronghold of resistance. Ochlik, the founder of the picture agency IP3 Press, was an award-winning photojournalist who covered events including the 2004 rioting in Haiti and last year’s Arab Spring. US-born Ms Colvin, in her final dispatches had detailed the unfolding conflict in Homs, which has been the focus of unrest against the Syrian president. While working in Sri Lanka a grenade attack left her blind in one eye and forced her to wear an eye patch to cover up the injury. Ms Colvin, who was educated at Yale, started her career as a police reporter for a news agency in New York before moving to Paris and then London. She was featured in the 2005 documentary Bearing Witness about women war reporters and was named foreign reporter of the year at the 2010 British Press Awards. The same year, she spoke at a memorial service for journalists who died reporting conflicts around the world.

Monday, 20 February 2012

500,000 passengers allowed to enter Britain on Eurostar without border checks


Home Secretary Theresa May told the House of Commons that border security checks at ports had been suspended regularly and applied inconsistently for more than four years. Mrs May also said students from low risk countries had been allowed to enter Britain even when they did not have visa clearance. She said the practice was unlawful and discriminatory. John Vine, the independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, launched an investigation after it emerged the UK's border checks were being relaxed at ports and airports without ministerial approval. His report found that border staff went "over and beyond" any scheme approved by ministers. It also discovered that the biometric chip reading facility had been deactivated on 14,812 occasions at a number of ports between January and June 2011.

Spending on health per patient in Spain is down ten percent in two years


The spending cuts in the health service are causing a deterioration in patient care, as the regions reduce the budget by 5 billion €. The cost per inhabitant has fallen 10% over the past two years, waiting lists are getting longer, and a shortage of beds and a lack of payment to suppliers is ever more common. Supplies are also being rationed. Unions claim there are some hospitals which are rationing the use of bandages. There are already hospitals which no longer operate in the afternoons, and emergency departments are often saturated. All the staff has met the brunt of the cuts, there have also been cut backs on medicines, technology and maintenance. Professionals and patients are starting to notice the cuts. At the Ramon y Cajal emergency department in Madrid, some 100 workers have denounced the saturation, and say there is a shortage of beds. Patients are being placed in overcrowded rooms. The amount owed to suppliers by hospitals by the regional health authorities has now risen to 11.6 billion €.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Teenagers jailed for south London murder


teenager accused of two gang murders at the age of 16 has been sentenced to a life term. Jordan Williams was told on Thursday he would serve a minimum of 18 years for murdering Daniel Graham, 18, who was stabbed 24 times in 45 seconds. Williams, who turned 17 last month, was part of a gang which attacked Graham as he stepped off a bus on 29 January last year. Williams was later arrested for the murder of promising athlete Sylvester Akapalara, 17, who was shot dead in Peckham, south London, a month before. But a jury cleared him of that killing, which resulted in Sodiq Adeojo, 20, being jailed for a minimum of 30 years, also on Thursday. Williams, Colin Aghatise, 16, and Lennie John, 24, all from Peckham, were found guilty on Wednesday at the Old Bailey of murdering Graham. Williams and Aghatise were ordered to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure, with Aghatise given a minimum term of 15 years. John, 24, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 22 years. They were said to be members of the GMG gang, which is said to stand for various names, including Guns, Murder and Girls. Graham was attacked with knives and a broken bottle in front of horrified passengers as he got off a bus in East Dulwich, south London. He was helped back on to the 176 bus by passengers, but died from his injuries. Judge Timothy Pontius told the defendants: "Daniel Graham was murdered in circumstances of horrific and merciless brutality. "He was killed in an attack which, for all its brevity, was intensely ferocious. "At least four, and probably more, played an active part. They were acting like a pack of hyenas." Williams had taken one of two lock-knives he kept at home to a party where violence was likely to arise at the meeting of two opposing groups. Williams and Aghatise were both 15 at the time. All three defendants were from decent homes and had good academic achievements. But on the night "they all too readily followed the pack instinct". The court was told that Williams was a server at his local church and had been elected chairman of his school council. And John's mother was said to work at a central London magistrates court. Duncan Penny, prosecuting, said trouble flared at an under-18s event at Dulwich Hamlet football club and a gun was fired, hitting a youth in the leg. He said a row broke out between Graham's friends and another group of youths. Penny said: "Daniel's group was punched and knives were produced and it appears a firearm was discharged and at least one shot was fired. "Daniel's group fled the party and their escape route took them past East Dulwich railway station. They were pursued by members of the defendants' group." Graham had tried to take refuge on the double-decker bus before changing his mind and jumping off. But he was attacked in front of passengers by a large group of youths who subjected him to "a volley of punches, kicks and stamps" to the body and head. Penny said CCTV on the bus showed the time of the attack as 12.09am. "It lasted in the region of 45 seconds," he added. "In that short period he had received 24 stab wounds, having been descended upon by a group of murderers." Passengers made the driver drive off while Graham, who was covered in blood, was laid across two seats by a nurse and her sister. After seeing some of the attackers at the next stop, the bus drove on until police and an ambulance reached it in Lordship Lane. Williams and John were identified by a youth who had viewed them rapping on YouTube. Aghatise's DNA was found on a broken bottle with Graham's blood on it. Graham had gained seven GCSEs and was doing business studies. He did voluntary work for the NSPCC children's charity in his spare time. His mother, Stephanie, said in an impact statement to the court that she had been devastated by his death. She added: "Everyone loved Daniel. He was instantly likeable to all who knew him."

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Hells Angel charged over Sydney ice labs


Police say they have charged a senior member of the Hells Angels bikie gang over the discovery of two illegal drug laboratories earlier this week. The 33-year-old man was arrested with an alleged Hells Angels associate on Wednesday afternoon at an apartment block at North Ryde, in Sydney's north-west. Police say they found drugs and a loaded handgun at the unit. The apartment was raided by officers investigating the discovery of two methylamphetamine labs on Tuesday in the city's south-west at Catherine Field and Narellan. Specialists from the Drug Squad's Chemical Operations Team are still working to dismantle the equipment and chemicals used in the manufacture of ice. Both men arrested yesterday have been charged with drug manufacture and other drug offences, while one has been charged over the pistol. Two other men who were arrested at the lab sites on Tuesday, aged 36 and 41, remain before the courts.

1993 £1m Felixstowe heist: Suspect Eddie Maher was 'bankrupt'


A man wanted in Suffolk over a £1m heist in 1993 had been declared bankrupt with debts of more than $30,000 (£19,000), American court papers have revealed. Eddie Maher, 56, originally from Essex, was arrested on 8 February after being found in Ozark, Missouri. Mr Maher had $85 (£54) in his bank account when he filed for bankruptcy in 2010. He is due in court in America on 22 February for a preliminary hearing. Anonymous tip-off Mr Maher disappeared in 1993 after a security van packed with cash was taken from outside a bank in Felixstowe. The former security guard, who had been living in South Woodham Ferrers when he disappeared, has been charged with immigration and firearm offences in the United States. Bankruptcy papers filed in November 2010 revealed Mr Maher had got into financial difficulties. They showed that he had $17,061 (£10,881) of loan and credit card debts. He also owed $1,759 (£1,121) in hospital and doctors bills and $3,148 (£2,007) in unpaid tax. The security van disappeared after stopping outside Lloyds Bank, in Felixstowe, in January 1993 Assets listed on the court papers included a rifle and digital camera valued at $170 (£108) and a 1997 Mercury Mountaineer car valued at $1,700 (£1,083). He was working as a broadband technician and earned $1,896 (£1,208) a month. His monthly expenses totalled more than $1,807 (£1,151). 'Financial management' course The papers also revealed Mr Maher and his family regularly moved home. Between May 2007 and September 2010, they lived in three addresses within the Ozark area. After being declared bankrupt in November 2010, Mr Maher was forced to complete a course in "personal financial management" on 13 December 2010. Police in America arrested Mr Maher after receiving an anonymous tip-off that he was a "fugitive wanted in England". Papers from a US District Court, in Springfield, Missouri, revealed Mr Maher cannot afford a lawyer. Suffolk police is looking to start extradition proceedings to bring Mr Maher back to the UK.

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