Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) — A Lebanese bank has denied accusations by the US Treasury Department that it is involved in laundering hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of a drug kingpin — and rejected claims it has links with Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based militia.
On Thursday the Treasury described the Lebanese Canadian Bank in Beirut as a financial institution of primary money laundering concern. The Treasury said it had reason to believe that managers at the bank were complicit in money laundering by Ayman Joumaa, an alleged trafficker accused by US authorities of shipping drugs from South America to Europe and the Middle East through west Africa.
The Treasury also said its action in designating the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) exposed links between the bank and Hezbollah — which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States. Designation means that US persons are prohibited from conducting financial or commercial transactions with individuals listed, whose assets under US jurisdiction are frozen.
US Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey said: Any financial institution that collaborates in illicit conduct on this scale risks losing its access to the United States.
The banks chairman, Georges Zard Abou Jaoude, told CNN Friday that the bank had no relationship whatsoever with Hezbollah nor to the best of its knowledge with anyone designated by the US Treasury Department. Jaoude said the bank had identified an account in Joumaas name but it had not been used in four years. It had notified Lebanese regulators about the account, and the banks books had been regularly inspected by the Special Investigation Commission, a Lebanese task force set up to counter money laundering.
The Treasury said Joumaas network launders hundreds of millions of dollars monthly through accounts held at LCB, as well as through trade-based money laundering involving consumer goods throughout the world. In its statement issued Thursday, the Treasury estimated that as much as $200 million was being laundered on a monthly basis. At least one of the individuals involved in this global drug trafficking and money laundering network has worked directly with LCB managers to conduct his transactions, the Treasury said.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration, which was also involved in the investigation, said: The Lebanese Canadian Bank for years has participated in a sophisticated money laundering scheme involving used cars purchased in the United States and consumer goods overseas.
The Treasury said the banks links to Hezbollah included a subsidiary in Gambia called Prime Bank, formed in 2009, which it said was partially owned by a Lebanese individual known to be a supporter of Hezbollah.
Jaoude told CNN the bank rigorously adhered to all blacklists published by financial authorities around the world. He said the bank had not been contacted in advance by the US Treasurys Office of Foreign Assets Control before Thursdays announcement and he was urgently trying to contact US authorities. All our books are open to the American Treasury, Jaoude said. We have to clear our name, he said.
In its most recent annual report, the bank said it is fighting money laundering by complying with international and [Lebanese] Central Bank circulars.
The Lebanese Canadian bank has 35 branches in Lebanon, as well as its subsidiary in Gambia and an office in Canada. The bank has grown quickly in recent years, from assets of $2.83 billion in 2005 to $5.18 billion in 2009.
Ayman Joumaa was designated in January — along with nine individuals and 19 entities connected to his drug trafficking and money laundering. A Treasury statement said he coordinated the transportation, distribution, and sale of multi-ton shipments of cocaine from South America and has laundered the proceeds from the sale of cocaine in Europe and the Middle East, according to investigations led by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Joumaas whereabouts are unknown. He is believed to hold Lebanese and Colombian passports.
One of the entities designated along with Joumaa was a company that runs a used car business in Benin and Congo out of southern Lebanon. Its manager, Iman Kharoubi, told Lebanons Daily Star last month: We work in Lebanon and Congo and Benin in Africa. But we do not know who Ayman Joumaa is; we dont have anything to do with him. CNNs attempts to reach Kharoubi were unsuccessful.
For several years, US authorities have alleged that Hezbollah is profiting from drug trafficking from South America to Europe via west Africa. In June 2008, the US Treasury Department designated two Venezuelans of Lebanese descent as Hezbollah financiers and supporters.
That might feel like a stiff breeze winter breeze youre shielding yourself from this morning, but its really just the chilly, collective sigh of relief from multiplex owners who finally have some desirable movies to show their patrons. Desirable being relative, of course, but still: For the first time in 2011, some significant opening-weekend money will be changing hands. But of the weeks four (!) new releases, who stands the best shot of taking first place? To the Forecast!
middot; Justin Bieber: Never Say Never: On the one hand, at least from the executive level, its among the most cynically conceived movies in Hollywood history. On the other, well, apparently the docu-concert flick is halfway decent, even good. To which I say, huzzah! We need more good movies or more interesting movies, anyway. But the teen-pop heartthrobs cinematic breakthrough (in 3-D, no less) remains pinned beneath the estrogen layer of our planets atmosphere, a one-quadrant quasi-blockbuster that was made to open and open big. I mean, this kid may be over with before the movie even hits DVD; neither legs nor long tail are the anthropomorphic metaphors Id ascribe to this sucker. Nevertheless, I like its 3-D chances to hurdle over Grandpa Sandler in the final tally, and by more than anyone thinks. FORECAST: $35.7 million
middot; Just Go With It: So this happened: Adam Sandler roped in no less than Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman as supporting players in his tale about a guy who pretends something married fake family Brooklyn Deckers rack Dennis Dugan directs etc. Michelle Oranges review really does say it all, and quite exquisitely to boot. All I care about at this point is the opening, and all I can really tell you about that is that of Sandler and Dugans six collaborations to date, only one 1996s Happy Gilmore opened below $30 million. But! None have been released within a year of each other until Grown Ups (their second-highest opening at $40 million) and this one, so this is probably less a test of their combined box-office muscle than a test of how quickly audiences can chew and digest mouthfuls of Sandugan Inc.s factory-farm gristle. I think theyll see a dip, Aniston notwithstanding. FORECAST: $31.6 million
middot; Gnomeo amp; Juliet: I know, I know CGI garden gnomes do Shakespeare for the whole family, with songs by Elton John. Whats the harm? Well, CGI garden gnomes do Shakespeare, for starters. I could see this working in an R-rated context with Ricky Gervais and Lucy Punch voicing the doomed Veronans, but come on. CGI garden gnomes do Shakespeare! Stephanie Zacharek has the low (low) down, and even the younger girls Disney is hoping to attract to this one will be puking with glee in the Bieber auditorium next door. Not optimistic. FORECAST: $13.8 million
middot; The Eagle: This one appears to have maybe gotten away from Oscar-winning director Kevin MacDonald: Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell star as a pair on a quest to retrieve the lost, titular object and avenge Tatums fathers death in the uglier days of the Roman empire. Fighting, despair, vague homoeroticism and much grime ensue, all under a PG-13 rubric that will probably make you wish youd just rented the grittier, nastier (ie more realistic) Centurion instead. Anyway, theyre pushing it out to 2,500 or so theaters, which shouldbe enough to crack $10 million, maybe a little better. FORECAST: $10.7 million
middot; The Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Help bolster your Oscar-pool odds with a trip to take in this years Oscar shorts 15 films in live-action, animated and documentary categories that historically prove to be heralds of fantastic new talent and, of course, the edge you need when trying to come out on top on awards night. For the record, God of Love is presently favored in live-action; its director, Luke Matheny, will drop by Movieline later today with his peerless selections for Valentines Day viewing that wont leave you in a diabetic coma/apoplectic fury/crying jag. Check them out.
middot; Cedar Rapids: Fox Searchlight kicks off its platformed release of Ed Helms kicking off his own leading-man career, starring as a naive, sheltered Wisconsin insurance guru who travels to a convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, only to tumble into one debauch after another. Anne Heche, John C. Reilly, Isaiah Whitlock and Alia Shawkat co-star; no one is quite over the moon about it, but the film has its following coming out of Sundance and will fare reasonably well on 15 screens. Look for more to come here as the release widens.
middot; Orgasm Inc.: Hey ladies! They made a movie about your orgasm! Liz Canners documentary about Big Pharmas quest to diagnose and commodify the mythical female sexual dysfunction was years in the making and not necessarily in a good way, as its cheese-comic visual elements suggest when attempting to tie together the true 30- or 40-minute heart of the film. But when its on, its really on, from exposing the connections between widely cited studies and the pharmaceutical companies that helped fund them, calling out the genital mutilation better known as vaginal rejuvenation, and showcasing the grassroots lobby against these and other lady-travesties. Come (ahem) for the shocking deployment of something called the orgasmatron; stay for the transfixing images of obliterated sexual-enhancement pills beneath the closing credits. [NYC and Chicago only; more cities forthcoming throughout April]
Cutting in these areas is not surprising, says Stan Collender, a budget expert and partner at Qorvis Communications in Washington.
“They really don’t have anyplace to go except to cut discretionary spending in lower-priority items like these,” Mr. Collender says. “In his heart, the president may not want to do this, but if you want to reduce the deficit, this is where the money is.”
Some cuts may kick in before the next budget year, which starts in October. Newly elected House Republicans have talked about slicing as much as $100 billion from the current year’s budget.
“People will be horrified at the scale of the cuts the House is considering, if they are implemented,” says Elizabeth Lower-Basch, senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a Washington group that works to help the poor. “What we are hearing is that the cuts will be for the most vulnerable.”
In the case of LIHEAP, any cuts for this fiscal year will be relatively minor since the bulk of the funding has already been shipped to the states, which administer the program, says Mark Wolfe of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, which lobbies for the funding.
At risk for this year could be $349 million in emergency funds, which are used in the case of heat waves or unexpected cold snaps.
“If worst comes to worst, we can live with it,” Mr. Wolfe says.
Wolfe and others will be urging Congress to nix any cuts proposed by the president. According to the National Journal, which first reported the proposed cuts, the LIHEAP budget would be cut by $3 billion.
On Wednesday, responding to the news, Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts said in a statement, “I’ve always supported serious efforts to restore fiscal sanity, but in the middle of a brutal, even historic, New England winter, home heating assistance is more critical than ever to the health and welfare of millions of Americans, especially senior citizens.”
According to Wolfe, demand this winter for help in paying heating bills is up 64 percent in Vermont, 21.1 percent in Massachusetts and 20 percent in Wyoming. Even in Florida, which has seen stretches of below-freezing weather this winter, demand is up 49.7 percent.
If the LIHEAP funding is cut to the 2008 level, it will mean dropping 3.1 million people from the program.
Whether Congress actually slices spending for any of the social services is another matter.
“Federal spending is unpopular. Federal services are not,” says Mr. Collender.
CONCORD — As city leaders decry Gov. Jerry Browns proposed elimination of redevelopment agencies, Concord moved this week to protect the fraction of redevelopment money it has already planned to spend.
The City Council voted to commit $112 million in redevelopment money to the city for already-approved projects and to continue ongoing economic development activities.
That amount represents a fraction of the $321 million the redevelopment agency is projected to receive before it expires in 2027 — if it is not eliminated sooner, as Browns budget proposes.
Browns proposal would not affect already-committed funds, so the councils move cuts the amount the state could gain from closing the agency to about $209 million over the next 16 years.
Obviously the cities need the money, said Vice Mayor Ron Leone. Weve had some great (projects) that weve been able to accomplish here in Todos Santos (Plaza).
Two downtown property owners spoke in praise of the councils move, saying redevelopment projects successfully revitalized the Todos Santos Plaza area, helping both the property owners and their business tenants.
These projects stimulate business and will help bring us out of this recession, said Ed Andrews, who owns property adjacent to the plaza.
Councilman Tim Grayson applauded the move, but said it might not stop the state from trying again to claim the money. City Attorney Craig Labadie said that while the move
Big news: President Barack Obama has finally quit smoking. It?s about time. What a terrible image from our country?s role-modelin-chief.
But now we have a new smoker-inchief ? it?s the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner. He?s known for spending time in ?Smoker?s Alley? outside the lobby of the Speaker of the House. And he?s unapologetic about the image he projects to our nation?s youth. He?s fine with smoking. And why not? He?s an old hand at corrupting government with tobacco money.
The media wastes its focus these days on tawdry priorities like Boehner?s orange tan and penchant for tears. It forgets the more important stuff ? like the time the man ran around the floor of the House of Representatives just minutes before a crucial vote on tobacco legislation. The House was about to vote to end federal tobacco subsidies. Why was he running around? ? to pass out a fistful of tobacco lobby checks to congressmen whose vote big tobacco needed.
Today, this man is in the driver?s seat. His rise to power is an example of corporate money well spent. For the next several years, don?t expect much to come from the House of Representatives to relax the stranglehold big business has on our nation?s government.
Teddy Roosevelt ? where are you when we need you?
Michael G. Busche
Fannie, Freddie bailout: $153 billion … and counting
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — When the dust settles, the federal bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be the most expensive government rescue of the financial crisis — it already stands at $153 billion and counting.
Even as the Obama administration unveiled its plan for reforming the firms, experts agree taxpayer losses are going to continue to climb, no matter what Congress eventually decides to do with them.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency, the government body that oversees the two mortgage giants, has estimated that losses through 2013 will require Treasury to pour another $68 billion to $210 billion into the firms on top of the money already used to prop-up the firms and the housing market.
&"Regardless of what they do, even if they were to change their status tomorrow, none of that will change the losses that will be coming due on their existing book of business,&" said Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, an industry trade publication.
The two firms have already made many improvements in underwriting standards over the last two years, making most new loans they finance and guarantee more profitable and less risky, Cecala said.
&"But that new business only goes so far, because it’s still dwarfed by the loans made five to 10 years ago,&" he said.
Cecala thinks the losses may end up coming in a bit below FHFA’s estimates, but other experts believe those estimates may be too conservative.
&"The losses depend very much on housing prices, and I don’t see the situation in the housing market getting very much better,&" said Peter Wallison, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
&"As long as home prices continue to decline or even stay the same, the losses to Fannie and Freddie, and to the taxpayers, will continue to climb.&"
/5:20Filling Fannie and Freddie’s shoes
Congress essentially approved a blank check in July 2008 to back losses at the two firms, and in September of that year the government stepped in and took them over after finding that losses on the mortgages they bought during the the housing bubble had overwhelmed their net worth.
But while the government has kept the firms alive by pumping money into them since then, there has been no plan on reforming their operations going forward.
Friday the Obama administration unveiled its plan to slowly wind down Fannie and Freddie and have banks and the private sector provide the financing for home loans. But the administration plans call for some continued role for the government in promoting mortgage lending and home ownership.
Critics of the plan would like to see the government removed from the mortgage finance market altogether. But even advocates of that position say it will take a period of years to phase in that change.
And no one expects the legislative battle between the administration and Republicans in Congress over the future of the firms to be an easy one.
&"The politics suggests to me there will be a standoff until the issue is settled following the election of 2012,&" said Wallison.
And working through all the bad loans could take even longer.
&"You have to take your time and go through those loans and suffer the losses,&" said Cecala. He estimated that will take at least two or three years, maybe many more.
Ironically, many of the losses that Fannie and Freddie are expected to post in the next few years will go to pay Treasury a 10% dividend on the preferred stock it received in exchange for the bailouts.
Both firms are essentially borrowing money from Treasury to have the cash they need to repay Treasury. The dividend payments Treasury receives limits the losses to taxpayers.
FHFA estimates that between 40% to 90% of those additional bailout costs will simply be used to pay that dividend.
The National Association of Realtors is lobbying to end what it calls a &"punitive dividend&" and Jaret Seiberg, analyst at Concept Capital’s Washington Research Group, said that structure is unworkable.
&"The problem is it’s impossible for them to tackle their current problem if they can’t rebuild the capital base, and they can’t do that paying that dividend level,&" he said.
John Gappers column on the AOL/HuffPo incident
argues that Huffington and her partners have made out like bandits.
HuffPo occupies a media middle ground that is financially doomed, he
says. There are plenty of readers in the middle–HuffPo proves that
beyond a doubt–but there isnt much money.
HuffPo has no subscription revenues and there is a vast
gulf between the advertising yields from readers amassed through
swimsuit photos and search optimisation, and those who pay for their
information. The barriers to entry in aggregation are very low and the
web is flooded with cheap inventory…
Free news aggregators are being pushed downmarket in a race for page
views while specialist providers seek their refuge upmarket. The middle
ground, where the New York Times and the Washington Post lived
comfortably in the print era, is a digital chasm because the cost of
becoming a premium content company is so high.
Ms Huffingtons creation has been trying to straddle this gap
cheaply by combining essays on fiscal policy with more sensational
fare. Even for her, however, that is a stretch too far. She is
intelligent enough to know it. Which is why she and her investors took
Sounds right. Even if Gapper is wrong, 10 times 2010 revenues,
almost entirely in cash, was pretty good going. Warmest congratulations
to Mrs Huffington on that account–also for gathering hundreds, or is
it thousands, of unpaid bloggers, bundling them together (in a
liberal-leaning publication) and selling them for $315m.
No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money. Samuel
Johnson said that. Where theres blockheads, theres brass. I said
Total money market mutual fund assets increased by $10.23 billion to $2.747 trillion for the week, the Investment Company Institute said Thursday.
Assets of the nation’s retail money market mutual funds decreased by $1.80 billion to $935.08 billion. Assets of taxable money market funds in the retail category decreased $1.37 billion to $729.55 billion for the week ended Wednesday, the Washington-based mutual fund trade group said. Retail tax-exempt fund assets decreased by $430 million to $205.53 billion.
Assets of institutional money market funds increased by $12.03 billion to $1.812 trillion for the same period. Among institutional funds, taxable money market fund assets increased by $12.42 billion to $1.693 trillion; assets of institutional tax-exempt funds decreased by $390 million to $119.28 billion.
The seven-day average yield on taxable money market mutual funds in the week ended Tuesday was unchanged at 0.03 percent, said Money Fund Report, a service of iMoneyNet Inc. in Westboro, Mass. The 30-day average yield remained at 0.03 percent, according to Money Fund Report.
The seven-day compounded yield also remained at 0.03 percent, while the 30-day compounded yield stayed at 0.03 percent, Money Fund Report said. The average maturity of the portfolios held by money funds was 46 days, up from 45 days last week.
The online service Bankrate.com said its survey of 100 leading commercial banks, savings and loan associations and savings banks in the nation’s 10 largest markets showed the annual percentage yield available on money market accounts was unchanged at 0.18 percent from the previous week.
The North Palm Beach, Fla.-based unit of Bankrate Inc. said the annual percentage yield available on interest-bearing checking accounts remained at 0.09 percent.
Bankrate.com said the annual percentage yield on six-month certificates of deposit remained at 0.30 percent, unchanged from the week before. Yields on one-year CDs were flat at 0.48 percent; unchanged at 0.75 percent on 2 1/2 year CDs; and unchanged at 1.61 percent on five-year CDs.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
After the coffee. Before seeing if Charlie Sheen is available to give our newsroom a pep talk too.
The Skinny: Charlie Sheen visited the UCLA baseball team to offer advice. His wise words? Stay off the crack … drink chocolate milk. Cant argue with that, I guess. Other news includes: A couple of movie theater chains want to get on the other side of the business, Fox is playing hardball with its affiliates and Ken the doll is getting a makeover.
If you cant beat them. Two theater chains — Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment Inc. — are getting together to buy and release independent films. The move potentially disrupts the longtime and delicate business relationship between theater operators and studios, in which they have acted as partners and divided a movies box office ticket sales, reported the Los Angeles Times. In other words, they may be biting the hand that feeds them. That said, a lot of theater owners are annoyed at the way Hollywood has been making fewer movies and rushing to get those titles out on DVD and video on demand so soon after theyre in theatrical release.
Gonna be a showdown. News Corp.s Fox is fighting with the local stations that carry its programming. The issue between the network and its affiliates is money. This time around, the network is threatening to yank affiliation if the stations dont cough up a big chunk of cash. Fox wants a cut of the distribution fees the stations get from cable and satellite operators. Stations say they are willing to pay, but think Fox is being greedy. According to the Los Angeles Times, for stations in the top 125 markets, the fees would start at 25 cents per subscriber per month, and rise to 50 cents over the run of the contract. Stations in markets smaller than that would have fees starting at 15 cents per subscriber per month, and hitting 25 cents in the fourth year. Fox affiliate chief Mike Hopkins tells Broadcasting amp; Cable its not open warfare. The affiliates beg to differ and for some reason the classic scene in Al Pacinos Dog Day Afternoon, when his character tells a cop to kiss him, is running through my mind.
Winfrey is getting expensive. Discovery Communications on Friday said it was going to pump another $50 million into the Oprah Winfrey Network, the cable channel it launched with the queen of talk. Discovery had boasted that it would make a profit on OWN in 2011, but now has downgraded that to break even. Details from the Hollywood Reporter. OWN got off to a strong start when it premiered Jan. 1, but since then its ratings have come back down to Earth. Discovery has already said it was shelling out close to $200 million on the channel.
Putting his money where his mouth is. News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch shelled out $20 million to buy stock in his own company, per Dow Jones. Meanwhile, according to the Los Angeles Times, the mogul is is getting closer to buying Shine Group, a production company majority owned by his daughter Elisabeth. That sets the stage for her reentering the family sweepstakes to eventually succeed him.
Never saw this coming. Struggling video store chain Blockbuster is putting itself up for sale, according to the Wall Street Journal. The problem is the chains creditors cant get on the same page on a restructuring plan to take it out of bankruptcy. The price tag, per WSJ, could be as low as $300 million, and of course assuming all that debt.
Looks like another weekend with the DVR. The big movie battle this weekend is between Justin Bieber and Adam Sandler, the latter of whom gets to live out fantasies with Brooklyn Decker and Jennifer Aniston in Just Go With It. Box office projections from Variety.
So you want to be a comedy writer. You know those short do-it-yourself animated cartoons all over the Web often featuring two bears discussing everything from wanting to be a journalist to what gyms to use in West Hollywood? Well, theyve become the latest form of audition tapes. The Wall Street Journal looks at the amateur animation business and how a few people have gotten noticed for their wit. Ill start working on mine. First up will be, So you want to be an aggregator, followed by, So you want to be a Redskins fan.
Inside the Los Angeles Times: Barbies boyfriend Ken is getting a makeover. ABC has sold out the Oscars.
– Joe Flint
Follow me on Twitter. Its like having ice cream every day. twitter.com/JBFlint
(01-25) 10:12 PST San Jose, Calif. (AP) –
A hero on the football field, Brent Jones is now also a hero to a 9-year-old epileptic boy.
The San Jose Mercury News reports that the ex-49er and four-time Pro Bowler donated $10,000 to buy a service dog for Louis Navin, after reading about the sick boy in Mondays newspaper. Louis parents, who are raising six other children, could not afford the dog.
Jones says he decided to donate the money, because he was amazed by the familys dedication to their son.
The Navins will use the money to buy a brown Labrador who will wear a magnetic collar on his neck and circle Louis during an epileptic seizure. The magnetic force will calm the boys seizures and allow him to become more independent.
Louis parents say theyve also received donations from other sources.
Information from: San Jose Mercury News, www.sjmercury.com
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