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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Walmart lobbying: BJP wants JPC probe

The government has no hesitation in holding an inquiry on reports of Walmart lobbying in the US to open the way for foreign equity in retail trade in India, parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath told Parliament on Tuesday. Amid ruckus in both Houses of Parliament with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanding an explanation from the government on the issue, Kamal Nath assured members that the government was 'concerned over the issue'. 'We have no hesitation in having an inquiry in this and money spent in India. We are open for a discussion and this is matter of concern for the government,' he told both Houses of Parliament. 'We want to get to the facts of the matter. I would during course of the day make further announcements towards this,' he added. Both the Houses were disrupted with the BJP demanding a discussion on Wal-Mart reportedly spending Rs.125 crore on lobbying activities in the US, including on issues related to enhanced market access for investment in India. Earlier in the day, reports of Wal-Mart engaging lobbying firms to get entry into India and demand for quota in promotion in government jobs rocked Parliament leading to washout of Question Hour in both Houses. In the Lok Sabha, as soon as Speaker Meira Kumar took up the Question Hour, members of BSP, Left parties and Trinamool Congress trooped into the Well raising slogans demanding inquiry into reports of lobbying by Wal-Mart and status of probe in the coal block allocation. BJP members were on their feet demanding that the Speaker suspend Question Hour and ask the government to reply on the lobbying issue.The uproar continued even as the Speaker made repeated appeals for allowing the Question Hour to continue. Her assurances of allowing members to raise the issues during Question Hour also failed to cut any ice with the agitating members.As the din continued, the Speaker adjourned the House till noon and later till 2pm. In the Rajya Sabha, BJP members were up on their feet soon after Chairman Hamid Ansari made an obituary reference to former member G Swaminathan.Within minutes, BJP members raised the issue of reported lobbying by Wal-Mart and SP members were objecting to the proposed move to provide reservations to SC/ST in promotion in government jobs. When repeated efforts failed, Ansari said a situation has arisen where 'the chair has to watch helplessly' frequent disruption of Question Hour.He said he proposed to call meeting of the Rules Committee and suggest shifting the Question Hour or dispense with it all together.Ansari then adjourned the House for 30 minutes. When the House reassembled, similar scenes were witnessed and the Chair adjourned it till noon.Seeking to put pressure on the government on the Walmart lobbying issue, BJP today said it was determined to raise the matter in both Houses of Parliament and seek suspension of Question Hour.'We will raise in both Houses reports of Wal-Mart spending huge money to lobby for entry the Indian market. While Yashwant Sinha will raise the issue in Lok Sabha, M Venkaiah Naidu will raise it in Rajya Sabha today,' the party's chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters after a BJP Parliamentary Party meeting here.He said the party wants an independent probe into the whole affair to ascertain the facts as to who were the beneficiaries of the amount spent by Walmart on lobbying for entry into India Naidu told reporters outside Parliament House that the party would not allow the Question Hour to function if the government did not meet its demand.'We will seek suspension of Question Hour in both Houses of Parliament today,' he said. Prasad said that the money spent on lobbying was spent in India and not in the US. 'We have the right to know who were the beneficiaries of this money spent on lobbying,' he said. BJP had yesterday raised the issue in Rajya Sabha, forcing two adjournments. 'The main opposition party was supported by CPI-M, CPI, SP, JD-U, Trinamool Congress, AGP and AIADMK, whose members demanded a probe, saying 'corruption' has come to the fore.'Walmart has in its lobbying disclosure report to the US Senate said it has spent Rs. 125 crore on lobbying and USD three million have been spent in 2012 itself for entering the Indian market. 'Lobbying is illegal in India. Lobbying is a kind of bribe. If Walmart has said that hundreds of crores of rupees were spent in India, then it is a kind of bribe. The government should tell who was given this bribe. This raises a question mark on the implementation of FDI in retail,' Prasad said.

Another shame for Vijay Mallya; Kingfisher aircraft seized

New Delhi, Dec 11: Vijay Mallya landed in another major trouble when service tax department seized an aircraft of Kingfisher Airlines. The 62-seater ATR aircraft has been seized as the airline management failed to pay its due service tax. At least Rs 63 crore service tax is yet to be paid by Kingfisher Airlines, informed sources. Meanwhile, sources also informed that the airlines has been served a notice by Mumbai airport aithorities as Kingfisher failed to clear Rs 22 crore dues towards parking and navigational charges. Mumbai airport authorities earlier were quoted as saying, "We have yet to hear from Kingfisher Airlines on our notice. They were given seven days' time to clear our dues and so far neither they have responded to the notice nor have made any payment." UB Group Chairman and the owner of the airlines, Mr Mallya owes over Rs 1,000 crore in vendor and tax arrears. Mr Mallya's company also has to repay due tax worth more than Rs 200 crore to the government, informed revenue department officials. The airline has been grounded since Oct 1, 2012 after its engineers and pilots went on strike demanding their long-pending wages. Not a single flight has been operated since Sep 30.

HSBC to pay $1.9 billion to settle probe: source

Washington: HSBC, the British banking giant, will pay $1.9 billion to settle a money-laundering probe by federal and state authorities in the United States, a law enforcement official said on Monday. The probe of the bank - Europe's largest by market value - has focused on the transfer of billions of dollars on behalf of nations like Iran, which are under international sanctions, and the transfer of money through the US financial system from Mexican drug cartels. According to the official, HSBC will pay $1.25 billion in forfeiture and pay $655 million in civil penalties. The $1.25 billion figure is the largest forfeiture ever in a case involving a bank. Under what is known as a deferred prosecution agreement, the financial institution will be accused of violating the Bank Secrecy Act and the Trading With the Enemy Act. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak about the matter on the record. Under the deferred prosecution arrangement, HSBC will admit to certain misconduct, the official said, but the details of those admissions to be made in a New York court were not immediately available late Monday. Nevertheless the deferred prosecution agreement means the bank won't be prosecuted further if it meets certain conditions, such as strengthening its internal controls to prevent money laundering. The Justice Department has used such arrangements often in cases involving large corporations, notably in settlements of foreign bribery charges. The law enforcement official said an announcement of the agreement could come as early as Tuesday. The London-based bank said it is cooperating with investigations but that those discussions are confidential. In regard to HSBC and Mexico, a US Senate investigative committee reported that in 2007 and 2008 HSBC Mexico sent to the United States about $7 billion in cash. The committee report said that large an amount of cash indicated illegal drug proceeds. Money laundering by banks has become a priority target for US law enforcement. In another case on Monday, a British bank, Standard Chartered, which was accused of scheming with the Iranian government to launder billions of dollars, signed an agreement with New York regulators to settle their investigation with a $340 million payment. Since 2009, Credit Suisse, Barclays and Lloyds all paid settlements related to allegations that they moved money for people or companies that were on the US sanctions list. Last summer, the Senate investigation concluded that HSBC's lax controls exposed it to money laundering and terrorist financing. HSBC bank affiliates also skirted US government bans against financial transactions with Iran and other countries, according to the report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. And HSBC's U.S. division provided money and banking services to some banks in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh thought to have helped fund al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, the report said. The report also blamed US regulators: It said they knew the bank had a poor system to detect problems but failed to take action. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the committee chairman, cited instances in which HSBC had promised to fix deficiencies after being sanctioned by regulators but failed to carry through. Levin also said the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the US agency that oversees the biggest banks, tolerated HSBC's weak controls against money laundering for years and that agency examiners who had raised concerns were overruled by their superiors. HSBC announced Monday that Robert Werner, a former head of the Treasury Department agencies responsible for sanctions against terrorist financing and money laundering, is taking a new position within HSBC as head of group financial crime compliance and group money-laundering reporting officer. Werner has been head of global standards assurance since August. In January, HSBC hired Stuart Levey, a former Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, as its chief legal officer. And a former policy adviser in the Obama administration, Preeta Bansal, in October became HSBC's global general counsel for litigation and regulatory affairs. AP