September 20, 2010
September 14, 2010
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A Heroic Return to Fashion
By SUZY MENKES
NEW YORK — Beyoncé Knowles, in a silver sequined dress, sashayed toward Tom Ford. She turned by the marble fireplace, where vases were filled with cherry blossoms intertwined with orchids, tossed her ample curls and revealed a hazy tease of nudity on her famous booty.
The performing artist was one of a stream of famous women who showed off the first Tom Ford women’s collection in the intimacy of the designer’s Madison Avenue store — an event so private that it took fashion back to a distant past when there were no banks of paparazzi or images whizzing off into cyberspace.
Only the photographer Terry Richardson, splaying himself across the floor in his enthusiasm and excitement, captured this exceptional fashion moment, when Julianne Moore, the female star of “A Single Man,” Mr. Ford’s first movie, walked the store runway with her daughter, Liv Helen Freundlich, laughing and applauding. Ms. Moore wore a silk fringed dress, one of several on that theme, with threads parting to show sensual shoes with gleaming ankle bows.
Then there was Emmanuelle Seigner, Roman Polanski’s wife, the epitome of perverse Parisian chic in her black hunting jacket and pants. And Lou Doillon, in Le Smoking, an inky tuxedo reincarnated from the oeuvre of Yves Saint Laurent, Mr. Ford’s dream master.
The returning fashion hero regained his glory in this cut-to-the-chase collection, to go on sale in February only in Tom Ford stores worldwide, according to Domenico De Sole, the designer’s business partner. Mr. Ford came back to women’s design with all the dash and detail, the expertise and the irony of his earlier collections …
Follow the Dirty Money
By ROBERT MAZUR
LAST month, a federal district judge approved a deal to allow Barclays, the British bank, to pay a $298 million fine for conducting transactions with Cuba, Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan in violation of United States trade sanctions. Barclays was discovered to have systematically disguised the movement of hundreds of millions of dollars through wire transfers that were stripped of the critical information required by law that would have enabled the world to know that for more than 10 years the bank was moving huge sums of money for enemy governments. Yet all federal prosecutors wanted to settle the problem was a small piece of the action.
When Judge Emmet Sullivan of federal district court in Washington, who ultimately approved the deal with Barclays, asked the obvious question, “Why isn’t the government getting rough with these banks?” the remarkable response was that the government had investigated but couldn’t find anyone responsible.
How preposterous. Banks can commit crimes only through the acts of their employees. Federal law enforcement agencies are simply failing to systematically gather the intelligence they need to effectively monitor the crime.
The Barclays deal was just one in a long line of wrist slaps that big banks have recently received from the United States. Last May, when ABN Amro Bank (now largely part of the Royal Bank of Scotland) was caught funneling money for the benefit of Iran, Libya and Sudan, it was fined $500 million, and no one went to jail. Last December, Credit Suisse Group agreed to pay a $536 million fine for doing the same. In recent years, Union Bank of California, American Express Bank International, BankAtlantic and Wachovia have all been caught moving huge sums of drug money, but no one went to jail. The banks just admitted to criminal conduct and paid the government a cut of their profits.
Wachovia alone had moved more than $400 billion for account holders in Mexico, $14 billion of which was in bulk currency that had been driven in armored cars or flown to the United States. Just who in Mexico did anyone think had that kind of cash? Of course, the government did a thorough investigation but could find no individuals responsible.
Bankers are escaping prosecution because law enforcement is failing to expose the evidence that some bankers market dirty money. Years after the transactions occur, any effort to prove what was known at the time is practically impossible. The bankers simply say they didn’t know where the money came from. Naturally, prosecutors look for ways to get around trying to prosecute those sorts of cases, and instead make deals.
September 5, 2010
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“All (sales) contracts and agreements signed outside the legal framework, in other words with SOMO, are illegal,” Baghdad’s oil ministry said in a statement. SOMO – the State Oil Marketing Organisation – deals with sales of Iraqi oil and gas products.
Talks on the allocation of Iraq’s natural resources are deadlocked, and Baghdad refuses to recognise contracts that the Kurdish regional government, based in the northern city of Arbil, has signed with foreign oil companies.
“No one outside the ministry has the right to sign contracts for the exportation of oil and gas,” the oil ministry added.
RWE announced on Friday it has signed a cooperation deal with the Kurds “to develop and design its domestic and export gas transportation infrastructure – creating a route to market for Kurdistan’s major gas reserves.”
“The cooperation also foresees the negotiation of gas supply agreements to enable gas from the region to be transported to Turkey and Europe via the Nabucco pipeline,” the German company said.
RWE is a key shareholder in the Nabucco project, which aims to bring up to 31 billion cubic metres (1,100 billion cubic feet) of gas annually to Europe through Turkey.
The European Union regards the project as vital to its future energy security following a number of eastern European disputes, which have disrupted supplies of Russian gas.
Kurdistan has been touted as a potential major supplier, but experts warn that instability in Iraq could make it difficult for supplies from the region to reach Europe. The regional government halted oil exports in October last year due to a payment dispute with Baghdad.
The oil ministry on May 6 said it had reached a deal with Arbil whereby all revenues would be handed over to SOMO, with Baghdad responsible for paying the extraction expenses in Kurdistan. But the agreement has not been implemented.
September 1, 2010
July 29, 2010
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Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim is extending his reach in New York with purchase of a century-old Beaux Arts townhouse on Fifth Avenue for $44 million — one of the most expensive townhouse sales ever in the city.
He owns the townhouse, located on Fifth Avenue at East 82nd Street across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, through a limited liability company, a technique used by many wealthy buyers. But the deed documents were signed by a lawyer at Grupo Financiero Inbursa, Slim’s financial services company, and the closing was handled by the same New York lawyer who handled Slim’s closing on the Fifth Avenue office building.
Several brokers confirmed that he was a buyer. Slim did not respond to requests for comment.
The townhouse, at 1009 Fifth Avenue, is 27-feet wide and said to be the only private mansion left on Fifth Avenue, after most were knocked down when a wave of apartment towers went up in the 1920s.
The 1901 house, known as the Duke-Semans mansion, was owned by descendants of the original owner, tobacco magnate Benjamin N. Duke, until 2006. The mansion was sold at that time for $40 million — then a record sale in the city — to Tamir Sapir, a former cabdriver who made a fortune in Russian oil and is now a real-estate investor and developer.
July 25, 2010
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in a stroke, a hedge fund manager here named Anthony Ward has all but cornered the market in cocoa. By one estimate, he has bought enough to make more than five billion chocolate bars.
Chocolate lovers here are crying into their Cadbury wrappers — and rival traders are crying foul, saying Mr. Ward is stockpiling cocoa in a bid to drive up already high prices so he can sell later at a big profit. His activities have helped drive cocoa prices on the London market to a 30-year high.
Mr. Ward, 50, is not some rabid chocoholic, former employees say. He simply has a head for cocoa. And, through his private investment firm, Armajaro, he now controls a cache equal to 7 percent of annual cocoa production worldwide, a big enough chunk to sway prices.
“Globally, he is unmatched in his knowledge of cocoa,” said Tim Spencer, a former Armajaro executive.
Armajaro maintains offices in West Africa, helping Mr. Ward keep tabs on major cocoa crops. “We even have our own weather stations — our very own that no one else has in some parts of the world,” Mr. Ward, soft-spoken and tan, said in a video interview this year with a financial news service.
Now, traders here are buzzing that Mr. Ward has placed an audacious $1 billion bet in the London market for cocoa futures. This month, he bought 241,100 metric tons of beans, they say.
His play has some people up in arms. While some see it as a simple bet that cocoa prices will rise on falling supply, others say Mr. Ward has created a shortage of cocoa simply to drive up the price himself.
The German Cocoa Trade Association and others wrote an angry letter to the London exchange on which cocoa is traded, demanding that it take action against what the association characterized as a “manipulation.”
The British news media has christened Mr. Ward “Chocolate Finger,” a nod to the Bond villain Auric Goldfinger. And on Facebook, someone has created a “Choc Finger” page featuring Mr. Ward’s face superimposed on a pig that is bellying up to the trough.
The fear is that Mr. Ward will become the go-to source until the annual cocoa harvest, which starts in October. With candy makers starting to stock up for the holiday season, they may be forced to pay him ever-higher prices — and cocoa has already jumped 150 percent since 2008.
“The squeeze was really timed perfectly,” said Eugen Weinberg, an analyst at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.
Mr. Ward and his firm, which has not acknowledged buying the cocoa contracts, declined to comment for this article.
Attempts to corner a particular market come and go in the rough-and-tumble world of commodities trading. During the 1970s, Nelson Hunt and his brother, William, tried but failed to corner the world market in silver.
While Mr. Ward lords over the world of cocoa, he is a bit of a mystery outside of that universe. Former employees, acquaintances and peers say that, in person, he does not fit his villainous nickname, and characterize him as friendly and intelligent.
Despite rattling the markets with large investments, Mr. Ward prefers to keep a low profile.
After working as a motorcycle courier, Mr. Ward was introduced to commodities in 1979, when he became a trainee for the tea, rice, cocoa and rubber operations at the conglomerate Sime Darby.
He first made his mark in cocoa with a big bet in the mid-1990s, when he was at Phibro, then the commodity trading arm of Salomon Smith Barney.
Mr. Ward opened his own firm in 1998 with another founder, Richard Gower. Its name, Armajaro, is a mixture of their four children’s names.
Mr. Ward’s appetite for risk extends beyond the cocoa market. He is also an avid rally racer who once drove a red 1947 Allard sports car thousands of miles in a race from London to Cape Town. He plans to race in a similar rally in January in a 1971 Ford Escort.
His fellow driver will be Mark Solloway, who was badly injured in a crash involving Mr. Ward in 2002 in Poland. When Mr. Solloway ended up in a local hospital, a distraught Mr. Ward, who had been driving their car, arranged for a private jet to fly him to London for treatment.
“He’s the greatest and most generous person,” Mr. Solloway said.
Mr. Ward lives with his wife and two sons in a four-story red-brick town house in the upscale Mayfair district of London. A brisk, 15-minute walk away are Armajaro’s offices, housed in a Georgian mansion with marble floors, soaring ceilings and a courtyard.
At first, Armajaro focused solely on cocoa. Later, it started trading coffee and then other agricultural commodities.
Today, Armajaro manages more than $1.5 billion in assets, mostly in hedge funds. But through another business, it remains one of the world’s largest suppliers of cocoa. It has buying operations in the Ivory Coast, Indonesia and Ecuador.
By most accounts, Mr. Ward profited handsomely by orchestrating a similar cocoa squeeze in 2002. That move, which earned him his chocolate-themed nicknames, caught the attention of financial regulators here, but their findings were never made public.
This time, seeing an even bigger investment, some cocoa organizations complained to the exchange, threatening to take their trades elsewhere. In a letter, the exchange said its investigations had turned up “no evidence of abusive behavior.” A spokesman for the exchange declined to comment further.
In any case, chocolate lovers should not worry too much, analysts said. Cocoa accounts for only about 10 percent of the price of most ordinary chocolate bars.
The situation could change, however, if the next cocoa harvest falls short of expectations — or if Mr. Ward keeps buying.
“That really scares us. That he would double up the bet and buy more September contracts,” said a London cocoa trader who asked that his name not be used because he might want to do business with Armajaro in the future. Still, the trader seemed in awe of Mr. Ward’s play, adding: “If I had the guts and money, I would do that, too.”