Venezuela Pleads Guilty in US to Role in PDVSA Bribe Scheme

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A former official at a Venezuelan state-run electric company pleaded guilty on Monday to U.S. charges that he participated in a scheme to solicit bribes in exchange for helping vendors win favorable treatment from state oil company PDVSA.

Luis Carlos De Leon Perez, 42, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and to conspiring to commit money laundering, the U.S. Justice Department said.

He became the 12th person to plead guilty as part of a larger investigation by the Justice Department into bribery at Petroleos de Venezuela SA that became public with the arrest of two Venezuelan businessmen in December 2015.

The two men were Roberto Rincon, who was president of Tradequip Services & Marine, and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, the manager of Vertix Instrumentos. Both pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiring to pay bribes to secure energy contracts.

De Leon is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 24. His lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

De Leon was arrested in October 2017 in Spain and was extradited to the United States after being indicted along with four other former Venezuelan officials on charges they solicited bribes to help vendors win favorable treatment from

PDVSA.

An indictment said that from 2011 to 2013 the five Venezuelans sought bribes and kickbacks from vendors to help them secure PDVSA contracts and gain priority over other vendors for outstanding invoices during its liquidity crisis.

Prosecutors said De Leon was among a group of PDVSA officials and people outside the company with influence at it who solicited bribes from Rincon and Shiera. De Leon worked with those men to then launder the bribe money, prosecutors said.

De Leon also sought bribes from the owners of other energy companies and directed some of that money to PDVSA officials in order help those businesses out, prosecutors said.

Among the people indicted with De Leon was Cesar David Rincon Godoy, a former general manager at PDVSA’s procurement unit Bariven. He pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Others charged included Nervis Villalobos, a former Venezuelan vice minister of energy; Rafael Reiter, who worked as PDVSA’s head of security and loss prevention; and Alejandro Isturiz Chiesa, who was an assistant to Bariven’s president.

Villalobos and Reiter were, like De Leon, arrested in Spain, where they remain pending extradition, the Justice Department said. Isturiz remains at large.

Venezuela Pleads Guilty in US to Role in PDVSA Bribe Scheme

All, Business, News

A former official at a Venezuelan state-run electric company pleaded guilty on Monday to U.S. charges that he participated in a scheme to solicit bribes in exchange for helping vendors win favorable treatment from state oil company PDVSA.

Luis Carlos De Leon Perez, 42, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and to conspiring to commit money laundering, the U.S. Justice Department said.

He became the 12th person to plead guilty as part of a larger investigation by the Justice Department into bribery at Petroleos de Venezuela SA that became public with the arrest of two Venezuelan businessmen in December 2015.

The two men were Roberto Rincon, who was president of Tradequip Services & Marine, and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, the manager of Vertix Instrumentos. Both pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiring to pay bribes to secure energy contracts.

De Leon is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 24. His lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

De Leon was arrested in October 2017 in Spain and was extradited to the United States after being indicted along with four other former Venezuelan officials on charges they solicited bribes to help vendors win favorable treatment from

PDVSA.

An indictment said that from 2011 to 2013 the five Venezuelans sought bribes and kickbacks from vendors to help them secure PDVSA contracts and gain priority over other vendors for outstanding invoices during its liquidity crisis.

Prosecutors said De Leon was among a group of PDVSA officials and people outside the company with influence at it who solicited bribes from Rincon and Shiera. De Leon worked with those men to then launder the bribe money, prosecutors said.

De Leon also sought bribes from the owners of other energy companies and directed some of that money to PDVSA officials in order help those businesses out, prosecutors said.

Among the people indicted with De Leon was Cesar David Rincon Godoy, a former general manager at PDVSA’s procurement unit Bariven. He pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Others charged included Nervis Villalobos, a former Venezuelan vice minister of energy; Rafael Reiter, who worked as PDVSA’s head of security and loss prevention; and Alejandro Isturiz Chiesa, who was an assistant to Bariven’s president.

Villalobos and Reiter were, like De Leon, arrested in Spain, where they remain pending extradition, the Justice Department said. Isturiz remains at large.

US Launches Five WTO Challenges to Retaliatory Tariffs

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The United States launched five separate World Trade Organization dispute actions on Monday challenging retaliatory tariffs imposed by China, the European Union, Canada, Mexico and Turkey following U.S. duties on steel and aluminum.

The retaliatory tariffs on up to a combined $28.5 billion worth of U.S. exports are illegal under WTO rules, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement.

“These tariffs appear to breach each WTO member’s commitments under the WTO Agreement,” he said. “The United States will take all necessary actions to protect our interests, and we urge our trading partners to work constructively with us on the problems created by massive and persistent excess capacity in the steel and aluminum sectors.”

Lighthizer’s office has maintained that the tariffs the United States has imposed on imports of steel and aluminum are acceptable under WTO rules because they were imposed on the grounds of a national security exception.

Mexico said it would defend its retaliatory measures, saying the imposition of U.S. tariffs was “unjustified.”

“The purchases the United States makes of steel and aluminum from Mexico do not represent a threat to the national security,” Mexico’s Economy Ministry said in a statement.

“On the contrary, the solid trade relationship between Mexico and the U.S. has created an integrated regional market where steel and aluminum products contribute to the competitiveness of the region in various strategic sectors, such as automotive, aerospace, electrical and electronic,” the ministry added.

Lighthizer said last month that retaliation had no legal basis because the EU and other trading partners were making false assertions that the U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs are illegal “safeguard” actions intended to protect U.S. producers.

US Launches Five WTO Challenges to Retaliatory Tariffs

All, Business, News

The United States launched five separate World Trade Organization dispute actions on Monday challenging retaliatory tariffs imposed by China, the European Union, Canada, Mexico and Turkey following U.S. duties on steel and aluminum.

The retaliatory tariffs on up to a combined $28.5 billion worth of U.S. exports are illegal under WTO rules, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement.

“These tariffs appear to breach each WTO member’s commitments under the WTO Agreement,” he said. “The United States will take all necessary actions to protect our interests, and we urge our trading partners to work constructively with us on the problems created by massive and persistent excess capacity in the steel and aluminum sectors.”

Lighthizer’s office has maintained that the tariffs the United States has imposed on imports of steel and aluminum are acceptable under WTO rules because they were imposed on the grounds of a national security exception.

Mexico said it would defend its retaliatory measures, saying the imposition of U.S. tariffs was “unjustified.”

“The purchases the United States makes of steel and aluminum from Mexico do not represent a threat to the national security,” Mexico’s Economy Ministry said in a statement.

“On the contrary, the solid trade relationship between Mexico and the U.S. has created an integrated regional market where steel and aluminum products contribute to the competitiveness of the region in various strategic sectors, such as automotive, aerospace, electrical and electronic,” the ministry added.

Lighthizer said last month that retaliation had no legal basis because the EU and other trading partners were making false assertions that the U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs are illegal “safeguard” actions intended to protect U.S. producers.

Activists: Thousands of Congolese Threatened by National Park Oil Plans

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Democratic Republic of Congo’s plan to drill for oil in national parks could leave thousands of farmers and fishermen who rely on the land in a struggle to survive, rights groups said Monday.

The central African country announced last month that it was taking steps toward declassifying parts of Virunga and Salonga national parks, both recognized as world heritage sites by the United Nations, to allow for oil exploration.

The parks, which together cover an area about the size of Switzerland, are among the world’s largest tropical rainforest reserves and home to rare species including forest elephants.

Allowing drilling in the parks would cause a loss of biodiversity, release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and pollute water that thousands of local people use for fishing and farming, according to several rights groups.

Congolese state spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters that the government will study the potential impact of oil drilling on local communities before they proceed.

The government has previously defended its right to authorize drilling anywhere in the country and said it is mindful of environmental considerations, such as protecting animals and plants, in the two national parks.

“There are lake-shore communities, especially in Virunga, that are very dependent on fishing and on the park’s integrity,” said Pete Jones of environmental advocacy group Global Witness.

“That really needs to be taken into account and doesn’t seem to be part of the debate that’s happening, which is a shame,” he told Reuters.

Conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also said it is concerned about the impact of oil drilling on at least 50,000 people who benefit from the fishing industry in Virunga, and tens of thousands more who farm on the outskirts of the parks.

“The risks of pollution are clear and present. The fishing industry would suffer considerably if it gets to that point,” said Juan Seve, WWF country director in Congo.

The oil industry would be unlikely to create local jobs since specialists would be brought in from abroad, he added.

The U.N.’s cultural agency UNESCO has previously said that oil exploration should not be conducted at world heritage sites.

Activists: Thousands of Congolese Threatened by National Park Oil Plans

All, Business, News

Democratic Republic of Congo’s plan to drill for oil in national parks could leave thousands of farmers and fishermen who rely on the land in a struggle to survive, rights groups said Monday.

The central African country announced last month that it was taking steps toward declassifying parts of Virunga and Salonga national parks, both recognized as world heritage sites by the United Nations, to allow for oil exploration.

The parks, which together cover an area about the size of Switzerland, are among the world’s largest tropical rainforest reserves and home to rare species including forest elephants.

Allowing drilling in the parks would cause a loss of biodiversity, release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and pollute water that thousands of local people use for fishing and farming, according to several rights groups.

Congolese state spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters that the government will study the potential impact of oil drilling on local communities before they proceed.

The government has previously defended its right to authorize drilling anywhere in the country and said it is mindful of environmental considerations, such as protecting animals and plants, in the two national parks.

“There are lake-shore communities, especially in Virunga, that are very dependent on fishing and on the park’s integrity,” said Pete Jones of environmental advocacy group Global Witness.

“That really needs to be taken into account and doesn’t seem to be part of the debate that’s happening, which is a shame,” he told Reuters.

Conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also said it is concerned about the impact of oil drilling on at least 50,000 people who benefit from the fishing industry in Virunga, and tens of thousands more who farm on the outskirts of the parks.

“The risks of pollution are clear and present. The fishing industry would suffer considerably if it gets to that point,” said Juan Seve, WWF country director in Congo.

The oil industry would be unlikely to create local jobs since specialists would be brought in from abroad, he added.

The U.N.’s cultural agency UNESCO has previously said that oil exploration should not be conducted at world heritage sites.

China’s Economic Growth Cools Amid Trade Tensions

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China’s economic growth slowed in the quarter ending in June, adding to challenges for Beijing amid a mounting tariff battle with Washington.

The world’s second-largest economy expanded by 6.7 percent, down from the previous quarter’s 6.8 percent, the government reported Monday.

Even before the dispute with Washington erupted, forecasters expected growth to cool after Beijing started tightening controls on bank lending last year to rein in surging debt.

Economic activity is expected to decline further as global demand for Chinese exports weakens and lending controls weigh on construction and investment, major contributors to growth.

Beijing has responded to previous downturns by flooding the state-dominated economy with credit. But that has swelled debt so high that global rating agencies have cut China’s government credit rating.

Chinese leaders are in the midst of a marathon effort to encourage self-sustaining growth driven by domestic consumption and reduce reliance on exports and investment. 

Consumer spending is rising more slowly than planned, leaving economic growth dependent on debt-supported investment.

Trump’s Advice to Britain’s May: ‘Sue the EU’

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U.S. President Donald Trump advised British Prime Minister Theresa May to sue the European Union instead of negotiating with the bloc, as part of her Brexit strategy.

 

“He told me I should sue the EU,” May told BBC television. “Sue the EU. Not go into negotiations — sue them.”

Her revelation about how Trump advised her ended several days of speculation about what advice the U.S. leader had offered the prime minister.

Trump said last week in an interview with The Sun newspaper that he had given May advice, but she did not follow it. The president told the newspaper ahead of his meeting with May that she “didn’t listen” to him.

“I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me. She wanted to go a different route,” Trump said.

Trump did not reveal what advice he offered May in a press conference with her Friday. Instead, he said, “I think she found it too brutal.”

He added, “I could fully understand why she thought it was tough. And maybe someday she’ll do that. If they don’t make the right deal, she may do what I suggested, but it’s not an easy thing.”

May also told the BBC that the president had advised her not to walk away from the negotiations “because then you’re stuck.”

For the past few months, British politics have been obscured by squabbling, irritability and bravado about how, when and on what terms Britain will exit the European Union, and what the country’s relationship will be with its largest trading partner after Brexit.

Britons narrowly voted to leave the EU in a referendum in June 2016.

 

 

Largest US Port Complex Braces for Extended US-China Trade War

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Liang Liang is feeling a lot of stress lately. He owns an import wholesale business in Los Angeles.

“I have been watching the news every day — when will the tariffs be put in place? When are my goods arriving; it’s a fight against time. I’m trying to order all my products for the rest of the year,” he said. His goods, such as toys and T-shirts, come from China through the largest port complex in the United States, the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

He expects a 10 to 20 percent increase in shipping costs because of the trade war between the United States and China.

Shipping costs likely to rise

China is the largest trading partner for both ports. As tariffs from both countries increase the cost of goods, manufacturers and retailers may order fewer products, which will cause a decrease in trade volume between the two countries, according to Stephen Cheung, president of the World Trade Center Los Angeles.

“Once that happens, you’re going to see an increase in the rates for shipping because then you don’t have the volume to justify the goods going back and forth,” he said.

Cheung explained that shipping costs will affect all goods between the U.S. and China, not just the ones on the list to be taxed. He said the trade and logistics sector, which includes the ports and the supply chain of trucks and warehouses, will be the first to feel the effects of the trade war.

Liang said he will absorb the cost and live with smaller profits, up to a point.

“If the tariffs increase by another 20 percent, we’ll have to raise our prices,” he said.

“The consumers are going to feel it in their wallets very quickly,” Cheung said.

​Supply chain may be less reliable

The U.S. as a manufacturing center depends on parts from China, but that supply may become less reliable as the trade war continues. Cheung said there may be uncertainty about whether the products will be produced or “whether they will be in the same price, so this potentially can have a huge aspect in terms of our exporting capability not only to China but to the rest of the world, Cheung said. “And there are a lot of jobs that are tied to this,” he added.

Officials at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles said it is too early to tell the impact of the trade tariffs.

“We’ll have to wait and see how various businesses restructure their supply networks and adjust to the tariff environment,” said Duane Kenagy, the Port of Long Beach’s interim deputy executive director.

He said so far, the port has seen record container volumes this year, but there is concern.

“The impacts of a sustained long-term trade war could be devastating to both economies,” Kenagy said.

Political theater?

Liang said he has hope, saying he thinks the trade war is actually political theater for the U.S. and China.

“China also has its position on trade. The Chinese government also has to be accountable to the 1.4 billion people of China. I think China and the U.S. will disagree over trade on the surface. (For Trump), it’s a show for the November midterm elections, so he can be accountable to the electorate,” Liang said.

Washington has been critical of China’s unfair trade practices and concerned with a trade imbalance. The U.S. imported more than $500 billion of Chinese goods last year compared to $130 billion of U.S. products exported to China.

These concerns and issues of American intellectual property are reasons the Trump administration announced tariffs on an additional $200 billion in Chinese imports.

“If you’re utilizing this as a tactic, that’s fine. What are the steps that you’re going to use to mitigate some of these damages that will be happening to the local community? These are huge issues that have not been addressed yet,” Cheung said.