Daily Archives: February 14, 2012

What money? Ponzi scheme cash not too dirty for Obama & Co.

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Published: 15 February, 2012, 04:26

A number of prominent US politicians, including President Barack Obama, are refusing to comply with a federal court order that they return donations from a known Ponzi scheme. The funds amount to $1.8 million in losses for the bilked investors.

­The then-freshly inaugurated President Obama had received $4,600 for his campaign from Stanford Financial Services. Obama’s campaign then donated the sum to charity in February 2009, just days after Stanford was taken over by the US government following charges of massive fraud. Republican and Democratic national fundraising committees, along with the campaign funds of various Senators, Representatives and the President himself, all received donations from the Houston financier Allan Stanford, who is currently facing charges of masterminding the second-largest Ponzi scheme in history – totaling $7 billion, second only to Bernard Madoff‘s estimated $50 billion fraud.

Obama is now catching criticism for refusing the court’s demand that the recipients return the donated money to the defrauded investors. Kevin Sadler, a lead counsel for the investors entitled to repayment, compared the move by Obama’s campaign to taking money from “a guy who goes into a Seven Eleven and robs the store.”

Following Stanford’s arrest in 2009, his Stanford Financial Group was placed under the management of a receiver. The receiver was charged with compensating investors – some of whom lost over half a million dollars in savings. The problem was that a large portion of the money had been donated to the campaign funds of high-profile politicians.

Other notable politicians owing money to the receivership include Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). The total amount of money owed by party committees on both sides of the aisle is over $1.5 million that, so far, these committees have refused to pay back.

But some Senators and Representatives complied with the demands and returned the money they had received from Stanford. These include Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). However, the $154,000 recovered from these politicians is a mere fraction of the $1.8 million owed to Stanford’s investors.

A scarcity of legal precedents and the difficulty to prove that the money received by a campaign was known to be illicit remain major hurdles in recovering the money.

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Iran May Disrupt Hormuz Shipping, Supporting Oil, S&P Says

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By Ayesha Daya

Feb. 14 (Bloomberg) — Iran might respond to sanctions with “low-level provocation” such as slowing shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, keeping oil prices at their currently high level, according to three Standard & Poor’s reports.

Iranian authorities could disrupt supplies of oil from the Persian Gulf by imposing tanker inspections or boarding merchant ships in its territorial waters, supporting oil prices because markets would increasingly view armed conflict as “a real, if remote, possibility,” according to the reports’ authors, who include Paris-based Jean-Michel Six, S&P’s chief economist for Europe.

The likelihood of severe disruption of oil supplies through the strait, through which 20 percent of the world’s oil flows, is “very low,” though if one did occur, it might boost oil to $150 a barrel and push economies into a recession, according to the reports.

“For oil-producing sovereigns of the Gulf Cooperation CouncilSaudi Arabia, U.A.E., Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and to a lesser extent, Bahrain — higher oil prices would actually be beneficial,” said Elliot Hentov, an S&P credit analyst in Dubai. “As oil exporters, they would receive more foreign earnings that they could either use to stimulate demand or improve their government’s balance sheets.”

The U.S. and the European Union are imposing tougher sanctions on Iran and Israel has talked of an attack on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities in an attempt to halt its atomic program. Iran, which says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation.

The three S&P reports discuss the impact of rising Gulf tensions on Middle Eastern states seeking to borrow money, the risks that a closure of Hormuz would pose for companies looking for credit and the threats to global economic growth from an oil shock.

Iran Sanctions Tighten as OSG to Frontline Halt Crude Cargo

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Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) — Sanctions on Iran are tightening after Overseas Shipholding Group Inc., Frontline Ltd. and owners controlling more than 100 supertankers said they would stop loading cargoes from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries‘ second-largest producer.

OSG, based in New York, said Feb. 10 that the pool of 45 supertankers from seven owners in which its carriers trade will no longer go to Iran. Four OSG-owned ships, managed by Tankers International LLC, called at the country’s biggest crude-export terminal in the past year, ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show. Nova Tankers A/S and Frontline, with a combined 93 vessels, said Feb. 9 and 11 they wouldn’t ship Iranian crude.

Previous efforts to curb Iran’s oil income and stop it from developing nuclear weapons failed because the structure of the shipping industry means vessels are often managed by companies outside the U.S. or European Union. An EU embargo on Iranian oil agreed to Jan. 23 extended the ban to ship insurance. With about 95 percent of the tanker fleet insured under rules governed by European law, there are fewer vessels able to load in Iran.

“It’s the insurance that’s completed the ban on trading with Iran,” said Per Mansson, a shipbroker for 31 years and managing director of Norocean Stockholm AB, which handles tanker charters. “Last summer, many countries started to be a little bit tougher, but the insurance is the real trigger.”

Kharg Island

OSG’s Overseas Rosalyn, which can carry about 2 million barrels, arrived at Kharg Island on Jan. 27 and departed the next day, tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show. It left about 16 feet deeper in the water, an indication it loaded cargo. The vessel is managed by Tankers International, which has its head office in Cyprus. OSG complies with all U.S. and European laws and its headquarters in New York doesn’t manage charters, OSG Chief Executive Officer Morten Arntzen said in an e-mail Jan. 30.

Tankers International told owners the pool’s vessels will no longer sail to Iran after changes to EU regulations, Arntzen said in a Feb. 10 e-mail. Insurers are no longer able to cover vessels trading in the Persian Gulf nation, he wrote.

Ship owners sometimes group their vessels to coordinate charters and improve earnings. The Tankers International pool operates 45 very large crude carriers, or VLCCs, from OSG and six other companies, including Antwerp-based Euronav NV and St. Helier, Channel Islands-based DHT Holdings Inc.

Nova Tankers

“All the owners in the pool have stated that they will not trade Iran because of the consequences,” DHT CEO Svein Moxnes Harfjeld said by phone Feb. 10. “DHT is complying with all relevant regulations and sanctions, and following recent developments our vessels have been instructed not to trade Iran.”

Frontline companies including Hamilton, Bermuda-based Frontline Ltd. and Frontline 2012 won’t ship Iranian crude, Jens Martin Jensen, chief executive officer of Frontline Management AS, said by e-mail and phone on Feb. 11 and 12. Frontline operates 43 VLCCs, according to its website.

Nova Tankers, the Copenhagen-based operator of a pool of ships including vessels owned by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., won’t load Iranian crude because of European sanctions, Managing Director Morten Pilnov said by phone from Singapore on Feb. 9. The pool will have about 50 vessels by the end of this year, according to data on its website.

Nippon Yusen K.K., the second-largest owner of VLCCs, won’t carry Iranian oil if it means ships aren’t insured, Yuji Isoda, an investor relations manager for the Tokyo-based company, said Feb. 9. The company doesn’t yet know how its insurers will handle the EU sanctions, he said by phone.

Tighter Restrictions

U.S. and EU leaders are trying to tighten restrictions on business with Iran, which produced 3.55 million barrels of crude a day in January, 11 percent of OPEC’s total, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Oil sales earned Iran $73 billion in 2010, accounting for about 50 percent of government revenue and 80 percent of exports, the U.S. Energy Department estimates.

The United Nations has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran, and the International Atomic Energy Agency said in November the country had studied making an atomic bomb. The government in Tehran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes and that documents held by the IAEA purporting to show designs and tests of weapon components are fakes.

Iran has threatened to block shipments through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, through which about 20 percent of the world’s globally traded oil passes. Crude futures in New York advanced 32 percent to $100.19 a barrel since Oct. 4.

Senate Bill

More trade with Iran may be blocked if a bill approved Feb. 2 by the U.S. Senate Banking Committee becomes law, making U.S. companies responsible for the actions of their foreign units when dealing with Iran. A spokesman for committee chairman Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, declined to comment.

While the Japanese government said last month it would curb imports from Iran, India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said Jan. 17 his country wouldn’t. China, the Persian Gulf country’s largest customer, needs the oil for development, Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun told reporters Jan. 11.

Founded in 1948, OSG has 111 vessels and 3,500 employees, according to its website. Its biggest shareholders include the family of board members Oudi and Ariel Recanati, who control about 10 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Oudi Recanati is an Israeli citizen and Ariel Recanati is a U.S. citizen, according to a Sept. 6 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Charles A. Fribourg sits on the board of OSG and Continental Grain Co., the data show.

Marshall Islands

Shares of OSG, which has 14 supertankers, fell 71 percent in the past year as a glut of vessels drove down transport rates. The company will report a loss of $178.6 million for this year, down from $204.4 million for 2011, according to the median of five analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Three other OSG vessels from the Tankers International pool called at Kharg Island in the past year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. They fly the Marshall Islands flag, which means they are registered there for regulatory purposes, according to data on the website of International Registries Inc. Almost 9 percent of the tanker fleet is flagged in the Marshall Islands, behind Panama and Liberia, according to data compiled by London- based Clarkson Plc, the world’s biggest shipbroker.

“Ship owners and brokers are now seeing a tightening of sanctions,” said Bob Knight, managing director of tankers at Clarkson in London. “This is a sign that sanctions are starting to bite.”

–With assistance from Michelle Wiese Bockmann and Rob Sheridan in London. Editors: Dan Weeks, Sharon Lindores.

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