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Barcelona’s Messi gets 21 months for tax fraud, unlikely to serve time

Barcelona's Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi (L) sits in court with his father Jorge Horacio Messi during their  trial for tax fraud in Barcelona, Spain, June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Alberto Estevez
Barcelona’s Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi (L) sits in court with his father Jorge Horacio Messi during their trial for tax fraud in Barcelona, Spain, June 2, 2016.
REUTERS/ALBERTO ESTEVEZ

Barcelona’s Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi was sentenced on Wednesday to 21 months in prison and fined 2 million euros ($2.2 million) after being found guilty of three counts of tax fraud, although it is unlikely he will serve time.

The Barcelona court handed the same sentence to the player’s father, Jorge, with a 1.5 million euro fine. Both defendants have around five days to appeal to the supreme court, the Barcelona court said in its statement.

Spanish law is such that any sentence under two years for a non-violent crime rarely requires a defendant without previous convictions to serve jail time. A spokeswoman for the court confirmed Messi was unlikely to be imprisoned.

Messi, 29, and his father defrauded the Spanish tax office of almost 4.2 million euros between 2007 and 2009 by using a web of shell companies to evade taxes on income from the player’s image rights, the court said in a written ruling.

The companies – with names such as Sport Consultants and Sport Enterprises – were based in tax havens such as Belize, Uruguay and Switzerland where legislation kept the identities of their owners secret, according to the ruling.

Messi, five-times World Player of the Year, admitted during the trial to signing contracts protecting his image rights but said he had no knowledge he was partaking in any wrongdoing or defrauding the Spanish state.

He said his father had control over his financial affairs, but the court said on Wednesday that this was not enough to avoid charges.

“(His) avoidable ignorance, which was derived from indifference, is not an error, and it does not remove responsibility,” the presiding judge, Mercedes Armas Galve, wrote in the statement.

“The information that the accused avoided having was, in reality, within his reach via trustworthy and accessible sources.”

Messi, who has held Spanish nationality since 2005, and his father had already paid 5 million euros to the tax authorities as a “corrective” measure after formal investigations were opened.

The footballer is 10th on Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s highest-earning athletes over the past decade, with an estimated income of $350 million during this period.

Barcelona football club, of which Messi is the leading goal scorer of all time in all competitions, said in a statement on its website following the ruling that it considers the player to be free of criminal liability .

“The Club … considers that the player, who has corrected his position with the Spanish tax office, is in no way criminally responsible with regards to the facts underlined in this case,” the club said.

Messi, who has won eight La Liga titles, four King’s Cups and four Champions League crowns with Barcelona, said last month he was quitting international soccer after the Argentine national side, of which he was captain, lost on penalties to Chile in the Copa America tournament.

($1 = 0.9034 euros)

 

Trump’s ‘playbooks’ offer glimpse of ruthless business practices

Fox News

A federal judge has given the world an unprecedented glimpse into the ruthless business practices Donald Trump used to build his business empire.

US district court judge Gonzalo Curiel on Tuesday made public more than 400 pages of Trump University “playbooks” describing how Trump staff should target prospective students’ weaknesses to encourage them to sign up for a $34,995 Gold Elite three-day package.

Trump University staff were instructed to get people to pile on credit card debt and to target their financial weaknesses in an attempt to sell them the high-priced real estate courses.

The documents contained an undated “personal message” from Trump to new enrollees at the school: “Only doers get rich. I know that in these three packed days, you will learn everything to make a million dollars within the next 12 months.”

The courses are now subject to legal proceedings from unhappy clients.

Judge Curiel released the documents, which are central to a class-action lawsuit against Trump University in California, despite sustaining repeated public attacks from Trump, who had fought to keep the details secret.

Curiel ruled that the documents were in the public interest now that Trump is “the front-runner in the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential race, and has placed the integrity of these court proceedings at issue”.

Trump hit back calling Curiel a “hater”, a “total disgrace” and “biased”. “I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump. A hater. He’s a hater,” Trump said at a rally near the courthouse in San Diego. “His name is Gonzalo Curiel. And he is not doing the right thing … [He] happens to be, we believe, Mexican.”

Curiel, who is Hispanic, is American and was born in Indiana.

Trump went on to attack Curiel further on Twitter on Monday and at a press conference in New York on Monday.

The playbook contains long sections telling Trump U team members how to identify buyers and push them to sign up for the most expensive package, and to put the cost on their credit cards.

“If they can afford the gold elite don’t allow them to think about doing anything besides the gold elite,” the document states.

If potential students hesitate, teachers are told to read this script.

As one of your mentors for the last three days, it’s time for me to push you out of your comfort zone. It’s time for you to be 100% honest with yourself. You’ve had your entire adult life to accomplish your financial goals. I’m looking at your profile and you’re not even close to where you need to be, much less where you want to be. It’s time you fix your broken plan, bring in Mr. Trump’s top instructors and certified millionaire mentors and allow us to put you and keep you on the right track. Your plan is BROKEN and WE WILL help you fix it. Remember you have to be 100% honest with yourself!

Trump University staff are instructed in how to persuade students to put the cost of the course on their credit cards, even if they have just battled to pay off debts.

Do you like living paycheck to paycheck? … Do you enjoy seeing everyone else but yourself in their dream houses and driving their dreams cars with huge checking accounts? Those people saw an opportunity, and didn’t make excuses, like what you’re doing now.

Trump staff are told to spend lunch breaks in sign-up seminars “planting seeds” in potential students minds about how their lives won’t improve unless they join the programme. They are also told to ask students personal questions to discover weaknesses that could be exploited to help seal the deal.

Collect personalized information that you can utilize during closing time. (For example: are they a single parent of three children that may need money for food? Or are they a middle-aged commuter that is tired of traveling for 2 hours to work each day?)

New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, who has also sued Trump University, renewed his attacks on Trump on Tuesday. “You are not allowed to protect the trade secrets of a three-card Monte game,” Schneiderman said ahead of the document’s release. “If you look at the facts of this case, this shows someone who was absolutely shameless in his willingness to lie to people, to say whatever it took to induce them into his phony seminars,” Schneiderman said.

Source: The Guardian

Russia to lend Egypt $25 billion to build nuclear power plant

Russia will loan Egypt $25 billion to finance building and operating a nuclear power plant in Egypt, the official gazette said on Thursday.

Egypt and Russia signed an agreement on Nov. 19 for Russia to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant in Egypt and to extend Egypt a loan to cover the cost of construction.

It was not clear at the time what the deal was worth, but Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the loan would be paid off over 35 years.

Egypt will pay an interest rate of 3 percent annually, according to the country’s official gazette. Installment payments will begin on Oct. 15, 2029.

“The loan will be used by the Egyptian side for a period of 13 years between 2016-2028 … the Egyptian side will repay loan amounts used over 22 years in 43 installments,” the gazette said.

The loan will finance 85 percent of the value of each contract for the work, services and equipment shipping, the gazette said. Egypt will finance the remaining 15 percent.

The plant will be built in Dabaa, a site in the north of the country that Egypt has been considering for a nuclear power plant on and off since the 1980s. It is due to be completed in 20022, and the first of its four reactors is expected to begin producing power in 2024.

Egypt, with a population of 90 million and vast energy requirements, is seeking to diversify its energy sources. As well as a nuclear plant, Sisi has talked of building solar and wind energy facilities in the coming three years to generate around 4,300 megawatts of power.

The country also recently discovered a large reserve of natural gas off the Mediterranean coast.

Source: Reuters

Ukrainian firms turn to court over Crimea losses

Two Ukrainian energy companies have asked a U.N. arbitrator to award them compensation for investments they lost when Russia seized control of the Crimean peninsula, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) said on Monday.

The case, brought in June but only now made public, involves petrol stations owned by Ukrnafta and Stabil. It is the latest instance of investors asking international courts to compensate them for losses they blame on the Russian government.

Last year, Igor Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s richest businessmen, brought a case before the same court seeking some $15 million compensation from Russia for the loss of an airport he owned on the Black Sea peninsula.

Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 after street protests in the Ukrainian capital forced a Moscow-backed president to flee.

In both cases, the plaintiffs alleged that the loss of their assets following Crimea’s annexation amounted to a violation of a bilateral investment treaty between Russia and Ukraine.

Russia has declined to contest both cases, saying the court has no jurisdiction over the matter. The court will hold hearings over whether it has jurisdiction in July.

In 2014, the PCA awarded a record $50 billion to former shareholders in oil company Yukos, which went bankrupt after controlling shareholder Mikhail Khodorkovsky ran foul of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and the government began demanding payment of huge sums in back taxes.

But a Dutch court last month set aside that ruling, saying the PCA had overstepped its jurisdiction. Both parties have pledged to continue the legal battle, in a sign that even a successful claim can be almost impossible to enforce.

Source: Reuters

Lula’s friend mulls plea bargain deal in Brazil probe: media

Brazilian businessman and rancher Jose Carlos Bumlai reacts during your testimony a parliamentary investigative committee, in Brasilia
Brazilian businessman and rancher Jose Carlos Bumlai reacts during your testimony a parliamentary investigative committee, in Brasilia, Brazil December 1, 2015.
REUTERS/UESLEI MARCELINO

A friend of Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrested in November for allegedly taking out a fraudulent loan to the Workers’ Party is negotiating a plea bargain deal with prosecutors, newspaper Valor Economico reported on Monday.

Jose Carlos Bumlai, a powerful rancher who also controlled a sugar mill, has discussed a potential collaboration with Brazilian investigators over the past two weeks, Valor said. He has remained in custody since Nov. 25.

Under Brazilian law, plea bargain deals are strictly confidential until the testimonies are collected by prosecutors and accepted by a judge.

Bumlai’s lawyer and a spokesperson for the prosecutors’ office did not immediately respond to request for comments.

The strategy has been widely used in the corruption investigation at state-run oil producer Petroleo Brasileiro SA that threatens to topple President Dilma Rousseff and has deepened a historic recession.

Prosecutors expect Bumlai to give details about the loan under investigation. They suspect the engineering branch of the Grupo Schahin, Schahin Engenharia, was awarded a contract to operate a drillship for Petrobras in exchange for the bank canceling Bumlai’s loan repayments.

Valor said prosecutors are looking for evidence linking two country estates in Atibaia worth 1.5 million reais to Bumlai and the former president. Lula was briefly detained for questioning on Friday, in the highest profile development in the two-year-old graft probe.

Source: Reuters

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