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The US and UN finally officially designates the Philippines and Indonesian branches of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) as a financier of terrorism. Abdul Al-Hamid Sulaiman Al-Mujil, executive director of the IRRO’s far east division, is similarly designated as well. The IIRO is a major charity connected to the Saudi government that has long been suspected of financing Islamic militant groups (see January 1996). It was reported shortly after 9/11 that the US left the IIRO off a list of designated terrorism financiers so as to not embarrass the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001). The Philippine IIRO branch in particular has been publicly accused of funding al-Qaeda since the mid-1990s, due to the activities of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law who headed that branch when he funded the Bojinka plot in the early 1990s (see 1987-1991). [Associated Press, 8/3/2006; Manila Times, 12/12/2006] A US Treasury Department press release says Al-Mujil has been nicknamed the “million dollar man” for his “long history of providing support to terrorist organizations.” He is accused of funding the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines and Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia. He is said to have had relationships with bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The press release also calls “a senior al-Qaeda member” and accuses the current director of the IIRO’s Philippine branch, Abd al-Hadi Daguit, “a trusted associate of Khalifa.” But curiously, Khalifa himself is still not officially listed, nor is Daguit. He will die in mysterious circumstances several months later. [Treasury Department, 8/3/2006]
The International Monetary Fund is reportedly given the opportunity to review the latest draft of Iraq’s proposed oil law. The draft was sent to the US government and oil companies in July (see July 2006). [Independent, 1/7/2007]
By autumn 2006, al-Qaeda’s central leadership based in Pakistan’s tribal region near the border of Afghanistan appears to be short on funds. But a peace treaty signed between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in the tribal region of North Waziristan in early September 2006 (see September 5, 2006) gives al-Qaeda’s leaders breathing room and allows them to receive money from new sources abroad. US intelligence determines that al-Qaeda in Pakistan is increasingly funded by the Iraq war. Operatives in Iraq are raising considerable sums from donations to the anti-US insurgency there, as well as criminal activity such as kidnappings for ransom common in the chaos of the Iraq war zone. Al-Qaeda’s central command had previously sent money outward to Iraq and elsewhere. A senior US counterterrorism official will say in 2007, “Iraq is a big moneymaker for them.” The Pakistani peace deal with militants results in tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers withdrawing from the tribal regions. This in turn allows militants to move between Pakistan and Iraq much easier than before. This official will say there are “lots of indications they can move people in and out easier,” and that operatives from Iraq often bring money. “A year ago we were saying they were having serious money problems. That seems to have eased up.” It is also believed that Taliban forces in Afghanistan are now being taught by al-Qaeda operatives experienced with fighting US forces in Iraq. [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]
Federal prosecutors attempt to determine just how much corruption, fraud, and theft has occurred among government contracts handed out to corporations for their work in Iraq. The preliminary answer: a great deal. The US Justice Department chooses to center its probe into war profiteering in the small town of Rock Island, Illinois, because high-ranking Army officials at the arsenal there administer KBR’s LOGCAP III contract to feed, shelter, and support US soldiers, and to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure. KBR, formerly Kellogg, Brown, & Root, is a subsidiary of oil-construction giant Halliburton. The reported violations are rampant (see February 20, 2008, October 2005, October 2002, April 2003, June 2003, and September 21, 2007). [Chicago Tribune, 2/20/2008] The investigation is under the aegis of the National Procurement Fraud Task Force, formed by the Justice Department to detect, identify, prevent, and prosecute procurement fraud by firms such as KBR. The Task Force includes the FBI, the US Inspectors General community, the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, and others. [PR Newswire, 7/13/2007]
Multiple Prosecutions Underway - The Justice Department prosecutes four former supervisors for KBR, the large defense firm responsible for most of the military logistics and troop supply operations in Iraq. The government also prosecutes five executives from KBR subcontractors; an Army officer, Pete Peleti, has been found guilty of taking bribes (see February 20, 2008). Two KBR employees have already pleaded guilty in another trial, and about twenty more people face charges in the ever-widening corruption scandal. According to recently unsealed court documents, kickbacks, corruption, and fraud were rampant in contractual dealings months before the first US combat soldier arrived in Iraq. Not only did KBR contractors receive handsome, and illicit, payoffs, but the corruption and fraud endangered the health and safety of US troops stationed in Iraq and Kuwait. One freight-shipping subcontractor has already confessed to bribing five KBR employees to receive preferential treatment; five more were named by Peleti as accepting bribes. Prosecutors have identified three senior KBR executives as having approved deliberately inflated bids. None of these people have yet been charged. Other related charges have been made, from KBR’s refusal to protect employees sexually assaulted by co-workers to findings that the corporation charged $45 for a can of soda.
Pentagon Slashed Oversight - The overarching reason why such rampant fraud was, and is, taking place, prosecutors and observers believe, is that the Department of Defense outsourced critical troop support jobs while simultaneously slashing the amount of government oversight (see 2003 and Beyond).
Lack of Cooperation - Kuwait refuses to extradite two Middle Eastern businessmen accused of LOGCAP fraud. And KBR refuses to provide some internal documents detailing some of its managers’ business dealings. KBR says it “has not undertaken an exhaustive search of its millions of pages of procurement documents” to determine whether other problems exist. [Chicago Tribune, 2/20/2008; Chicago Tribune, 2/21/2008]
Retired Admiral David Oliver, who served as the Coalition Provisional Authority’s principal deputy for financial matters during the summer of 2003, is interviewed by the BBC, which is doing a documentary on the billions of dollars in missing Iraqi funds. When asked what happened to the $8.8 billion that the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction concluded could not be accounted for (see January 30, 2005), Oliver responds: “I have no idea, I can’t tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn’t—nor do I actually think it’s important.” The interviewer than asks, “Not important?” And Oliver says, “No. The coalition—and I think it was between 300 and 600 people civilians—and you want to bring in 3,000 auditors to make sure money’s being spent?” The interview than notes, “Yes, but the fact is billions of dollars have disappeared without trace…” And Oliver says in response, “Of their money. Billions of dollars of their money, yeah I understand, I’m saying what difference does it make?… I chose to give that money to the Iraqis, they got the power working within eight days in the major hospitals in Baghdad.” [BBC, 11/9/2006; US Congress, 2/6/2007, pp. 17 ]
Robert Gates. [Source: US Defense Department]In its final report, the Iraq Study Group (ISG) recommends significant changes to Iraq’s oil industry. The report’s 63rd recommendation states that the US should “assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise” and “encourage investment in Iraq’s oil sector by the international community and by international energy companies.” The recommendation also says the US should “provide technical assistance to the Iraqi government to prepare a draft oil law.” [Iraq Study Group, 2006, pp. 57 ] The report makes a number of recommendations about the US occupation of Iraq, including hints that the US should consider moving towards a tactical withdrawal of forces from that beleaguered nation. President Bush’s reaction to the report is best summed up by his term for the report: a “flaming turd.” Bush’s scatological reaction does not bode well for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s own hopes that the administration will use the ISG report as a template for revising its approach to Iraq. This does not happen. Instead, Vice President Dick Cheney organizes a neoconservative counter to the ISG’s recommendations, led by the American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Kagan. Kagan and his partner, retired general Jack Keane, quickly formulate a plan to dramatically escalate the number of US troops in Iraq, an operation quickly termed “the surge” (see January 10, 2007). The only element of the ISG report that is implemented in the Bush administration’s operations in Iraq is the label “a new way forward,” a moniker appropriated for the surge of troops. Administration officials such as Rice and the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, quickly learn to swallow their objections and get behind Bush’s new, aggressive strategy; military commanders who continue to support elements of the ISG recommendations, including CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid and ground commander General George Casey, are either forced into retirement (Abizaid) or shuttled into a less directly influential position (Casey). [Salon, 1/10/2007]
Entity Tags: American Enterprise Institute, Condoleezza Rice, Frederick Kagan, Iraq Study Group, Robert M. Gates, Jack Keane, George Casey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, John P. Abizaid
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation
George W. Bush. [Source: Annie Leibovitz / Vanity Fair]In a news conference, President Bush says that because of the nation’s increasing economic difficulties, the year ahead will “require difficult choices and additional sacrifices.” The nation needs economic growth, and thusly he says to the American populace, “I encourage you all to go shopping more.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
The Guardian publishes an op-ed piece by Iraqi economist Kamil Mahdi under the title “Iraqis will never accept this sellout to the oil corporations.” Mahdi, a professor at Exeter University (UK), writes: “Before embarking on controversial measures such as [the proposed Oil Law] favoring foreign oil firms, the Iraqi parliament and government must prove that they are capable of protecting the country’s sovereignty and the people’s rights and interests… The oil law (see January 16, 2007) is likely to open the door to these corporations at a time when Iraq’s capacity to regulate and control their activities will be highly circumscribed. It would therefore place the responsibility for protecting the country’s vital national interest on the shoulders of a few vulnerable technocrats in an environment where blood and oil flow together in abundance. Common sense, fairness, and Iraq’s national interest dictate that this draft law must not be allowed to pass during these abnormal times, and that long-term contracts of 10, 15, or 20 years must not be signed before peace and stability return, and before Iraqis can ensure that their interests are protected. This law has been discussed behind closed doors for much of the past year. Secret drafts have been viewed and commented on by the US government, but have not been released to the Iraqi public—and not even to all members of parliament. If the law is pushed through in these circumstances, the political process will be further discredited even further. Talk of a moderate cross-sectarian front appears designed to ease the passage of the law and the sellout to oil corporations. The US, the IMF and their allies are using fear to pursue their agenda of privatizing and selling off Iraq’s oil resources. The effect of this law will be to marginalize Iraq’s oil industry and undermine the nationalization measures undertaken between 1972 and 1975. It is designed as a reversal of Law Number 80 of December 1961 that recovered most of Iraq’s oil from a foreign cartel. Iraq paid dearly for that courageous move: the then prime minister, General Qasim, was murdered 13 months later in a Ba’athist-led coup that was supported by many of those who are part of the current ruling alliance—the US included. Nevertheless, the national oil policy was not reversed then, and its reversal under US occupation will never be accepted by Iraqis.” [Guardian, 1/16/2007]
Iraq’s Oil Committee (see October 2006) agrees on what is said at this time to be the final draft of the oil law. Instead of specifying the use of production sharing agreements, as a previous draft did (see July 2006), this draft calls for the creation of a federal committee that would determine what kinds of contracts can be used for hiring oil companies to help develop Iraq’s oil sector. The next step is for the law to be approved by the Iraqi cabinet. [Iraq Oil Committee, 1/15/2007; Reuters, 1/17/2007] This happens on February 15 (see February 15, 2007).
British MPs debate the Iraq oil law that was recently approved by the Iraq Oil Committee (see January 16, 2007).
Jeremy Corbyn says: “News was leaked out last week of a proposed new oil law that the Iraqi Parliament is to be invited to approve in a few weeks’ time. This is a mysterious piece of legislation, and I hope that the Minister will be able to throw some light on the matter when he responds to the debate. Apparently, the drafters of the new law were not in Iraq but in Washington, and they were assisted by people in London. The proposed law bears an uncanny resemblance to the British-imposed oil law in Iran in 1952, after the shah was imposed on the people of that country. BP and other oil companies made massive amounts of money from that arrangement in the succeeding years. There is deep suspicion that the oil law that is now being proposed for Iraq is the reward for the invasion, and that it will involve the privatization of oil production and the sale to certain oil companies of cheap oil that ought to be for the benefit of the Iraqi people…. It would be illegal [for 15 or 20-year oil contracts to be signed while the country is still under occupation], because Britain and the United States are, in law, occupying forces. They do not therefore have the legal authority to make fundamental changes to what is happening in that country. Those are the terms of the Hague convention, and that ought to be understood.”
Michael Meacher says: “It is also immensely important and significant that… a new draft law is about to be pushed through the fledgling Iraqi Parliament by the United States that will set up contracts to allow major US and British oil companies to extract substantial parts of the oil profits for a period of up to 30 years. No other Middle Eastern producer-country has ever offered such hugely lucrative concessions to the big oil companies. OPEC—the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries—has, of course, always run its oil business on the basis of there being tightly controlled state companies. Only Iraq in its current dire situation, with US troops propping up its Government—without them the Government would not survive—lacks the bargaining capacity to be able to resist. If this new draft law is conceded by the Iraqis under the intense pressure that is being put on them, it will lock the country into a degree of weakness and dependence for decades ahead. The neo cons may have lost the war, but my goodness, they are still negotiating to win the biggest chunk of the peace, when and if it ever comes…. This rearguard attempt to pre-empt the lion’s share of the remaining oil and the massive future profits over a 30-year period—there is no authority to extract it from another country without its agreement—can only intensify the insurgency. It is bound to foster much-increased resentment… and increase the violent resistance, even when the occupation has come to an end. Above all, this policy is utterly short-sighted, because it is diametrically opposed to the policy into which the whole world will ineluctably be forced by the accelerating onset of climate change.” [House of Commons, 1/24/2007]
Youssef Nada in 2007. [Source: PBS]Egypt freezes the assets of dozens of top Muslim Brotherhood figures and then announces that 40 of them will stand trial in Egypt’s military court. The Associated Press notes this court is “known for its swift trials and no right of appeal.” Figures targeted include most of the top leaders of the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland, the Muslim Brotherhood bank banned by the US for its alleged ties to al-Qaeda. About five of those to be tried in absentia are tied to the bank, including bank directors Youssef Nada and Ghaleb Himmat. [Agence France-Presse, 1/24/2007; Associated Press, 2/6/2007; Ikhwanweb, 2/8/2007] The Muslim Brotherhood has been officially banned in Egypt for decades but it has generally been tolerated by the government. Muslim Brotherhood members became the largest opposition bloc in the Egyptian parliament after winning 88 of the 454 seats in the 2005 legislative elections by running as independents. [Associated Press, 2/6/2007]
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, brother-in-law and former best friend of Osama bin Laden, is killed in Madagascar. Khalifa’s family claims that a large group of armed men broke into his house and killed him as he slept. His computer and laptop is stolen. Khalifa was living in Saudi Arabia but traded precious stones and was staying at a mine that he owns. His family says they do not believe he had been killed by locals. There is considerable evidence Khalifa was involved in funding al-Qaeda-connected plots in the Philippines and Yemen in the 1990s (see December 16, 1994-February 1995, December 16, 1994-May 1995, and 1996-1997 and After). Since that time, Khalifa has steadfastly denied any involvement in terrorism and has criticized bin Laden. CNN reporter Nic Robertson asks, “Was he killed by bin Laden’s associates for speaking out against the al-Qaeda leader or, equally feasibly, by an international intelligence agency settling an old score?” Just one week earlier, a Philippine newspaper published a posthumous 2006 interview with Khaddafy Janjalani, former leader of Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim militant group in the southern Philippines. In the interview, Janjalani claimed Abu Sayyaf received $122,000 from Khalifa and bomber Ramzi Yousef in the mid-1990s (see Early 1991). [CNN, 1/31/2007; Reuters, 2/1/2007] And four days before his murder, Interpol put out a bulletin about him, notifying a number of US intelligence agencies (see January 26, 2007). [Guardian, 3/2/2007] His murderers have not been found or charged.
Former Republican Congressman Curt Weldon, newly hired by private US defense consulting firm Defense Solutions, begins helping that firm broker deals between Russian and Ukranian arms dealers and the governments of Iraq and Libya. The US has banned its citizens from participating in any such deals with Libya. Weldon visits Libya to discuss a possible military arms deal, and, in the company of Defense Solutions CEO Timothy Ringgold and another Defense Solutions representative, travels to Moscow to discuss working with Russia’s weapons-export agency on arms sales to the Middle East. Defense Solutions is one of a number of American and other firms trying to profit from the growing pipeline between weapons suppliers of the former Soviet bloc and Afghanistan and various countries in the Middle East. According to a letter from Ringgold to his colleagues, Russia finds that an “intermediary” like Weldon, with his political and defense industry connections, helps it move products in Iraq. “They [the Russians] have not spoken with any American company that can offer the quid pro quo that we can or that has the connections in Russia that we have,” Ringgold wrote. Wired News will note that, a few years ago, any American firm trying to broker arms deals involving a sponsor of terrorism such as Libya would have run afoul of Congressional oversight committees. Now, though, the Bush administration is so eager to outfit countries like Afghanistan and Iraq with modern weapons that it allows, at least informally, such contacts. Defense Solutions has hired a number of influential Washington advisers such as Weldon, a former member of the House Armed Services Committee, and retired General Barry McCaffrey. Weldon speaks enthusiastically about setting up a “front company” to work with Rosoboronexport, a Russian arms agency, in selling arms to Middle Eastern nations. He also claims that the director of Rosoboronexport has approached him to work with “an American company that would act as a front for weapons these nations want to buy,” and calls the proposal an “unbelievable offer.” Rosoboronexport is barred from doing business with the US government after violating the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act, and Libya is on the State Department’s arms embargo list. Rachel Stohl, an expert on the international arms trade and a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information, will say that many expert observers believe that Defense Solutions and other defense contractors may be engaging in illegal and corrupt activities, such as selling shoddy, substandard arms and equipment, or in some cases making deals for arms that are never delivered. Ringgold will deny having signed any deals with Libya, but admits he is interested in doing business there. He will also confirm Weldon’s trip to Libya on behalf of the firm, and will openly admit trying to cut deals with Rosoboronexport. [Wired News, 7/3/2008]
Iraqi oil labor unions send a letter to Iraqi President Jalal Talbani urging him not to support an oil development policy that would rely upon the use of production sharing agreements. “Production-sharing agreements are a relic of the 1960s,” the letter says. “They will re-imprison the Iraqi economy and impinge on Iraq’s sovereignty since they only preserve the interests of foreign companies. We warn against falling into this trap.” [Inter Press Service, 2/28/2007]
Changes are again made to the draft of the proposed Iraqi oil law. [Asia Times, 2/28/2007] According to this draft:
Foreign corporations would have access to nearly every sector of Iraq’s oil and natural gas industry, including service contracts on existing fields that are already being managed and operated by the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC). For fields that have been discovered, but which are not currently being developed, the law would require INOC to be a partner in developing these fields. But the new oil law does not require participation of the INOC or any private Iraqi companies in contracts for fields that have not yet been discovered. In such cases, the new law would permit foreign companies to have full access. [Iraqi Council of Ministers, 2/2007; Inter Press Service, 2/28/2007; Asia Times, 2/28/2007]
Companies contracted to develop oil fields would be given exclusive control of fields for up to 35 years, and would be guaranteed profits for 25 years. Foreign companies would not be required to partner with an Iraqi company or reinvest any of its profits in the Iraqi economy. Nor would they have to employ or train Iraqi workers, or engage in any other effort to transfer technology and skills to the Iraqis. [Iraqi Council of Ministers, 2/2007; Asia Times, 2/28/2007]
An Iraqi Federal Oil and Gas Council would be established and given the ultimate decision-making authority in determining what kinds of contracts could be used to develop Iraq’s oil and what would be done with the existing exploration and production contracts already signed with French, Chinese, Russian, and other foreign companies. The law states that council members would include, among others, “executive managers from important related petroleum companies.” As an article in the Asian Times notes, “[I]t is possible that foreign oil-company executives could sit on the council. It would be unprecedented for a sovereign country to have, for instance, an executive of ExxonMobil on the board of its key oil-and-gas decision-making body.” There is no language in the law that would prevent foreign corporate executives sitting on the council from making decisions about their own contracts. And there is no requirement that a quorum be present when making decisions. The Asian Times article notes, “Thus, if only five members of the Federal Oil and Gas Council met—one from ExxonMobil, Shell, ChevronTexaco and two Iraqis—the foreign company representatives would apparently be permitted to approve contacts for themselves.” The new law does not specify what kind of oil agreements could be signed between Iraq and private firms to develop Iraq’s oil. Rather it leaves this question to the council, which would be permitted to approve and rewrite contracts using whatever type is agreed upon by a “two-thirds majority of the members in attendance.” Previous drafts of the law had specifically mentioned production sharing agreements (PSAs), a controversial type of contract that is favored by the oil companies. [Asia Times, 2/28/2007] That model, favored by the US and by oil companies, was opposed by many Iraqis, including Iraqi oil professionals, engineers, and technicians in the unions. The Iraqis prefer technical service contracts, like the ones used in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Under such contracts foreign companies would be allowed to participate in the development of oil fields, but only for a limited time. [Democracy Now!, 2/20/2007] The companies would be paid to build a refinery, lay a pipeline, or offer consultancy services, but then would leave afterwards. This type of arrangement would help transfer technical expertise and skills to Iraqis. “It is a much more equitable relationship because the control of production, development of oil will stay with the Iraqi state,” notes Ewa Jasiewicz, a researcher at PLATFORM, a British human rights and environmental group that monitors the oil industry. She notes that no other country in the Middle East that is a large oil producer would ever sign a PSA because it’s “a form of privatization and… it’s not in their interests.” Critics also note that the signing of PSA agreements with US oil companies would add fuel to the unrest in Iraq and that the US would attempt to legitimize its continuing presence in Iraq with assertions about the need to safeguard US business interests. [Inter Press Service, 2/28/2007]
Iraq’s national government would not have control over production levels. Rather, the contractee developing a field—e.g., the INOC, or a foreign or domestic company—would be able to decide how much oil to produce. However, the document does say: “In the event that, for national policy considerations, there is a need to introduce limitations on the national level of petroleum production, such limitations shall be applied in a fair and equitable manner and on a pro rata basis for each contract area on the basis of approved field-development plans.” But it does not specify who has the authority to introduce such nation-wide limitations or how production levels might be lowered in a “fair and equitable manner.” The language appears to signify that Iraq would no longer work with OPEC or other similar organizations. [Iraqi Council of Ministers, 2/2007; Asia Times, 2/28/2007]
Oil revenues would be distributed to all of Iraq’s 18 provinces according to their population sizes. Regional administrations, not Iraq’s central government, would have the authority to negotiate contracts with foreign oil companies, monitor contracts, and deal with small disputes. But the ultimate authority would lie with the Federal Oil and Gas Council which would be able to veto decisions made by regional authorities. Critics say this arrangement almost encourages the split of Iraq into three different regions or even three different states. According to Raed Jarrar, Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange, a situation like this would mean that “Iraqis in different provinces will start signing contracts directly with foreign companies and competing between themselves, among themselves, among different Iraqi provinces, to get the oil companies to go… there without any centralized way in controlling this and thinking of the Iraqi interest and protecting Iraq as a country.” [Iraqi Council of Ministers, 2/2007; Inter Press Service, 2/28/2007]
The Iraqi Centre for Strategic Studies hosts a conference in Amman, Jordan attended by prominent Iraqi parliamentarians, politicians, ex-ministers, and oil technocrats. At the conference, attendees urge Iraqi legislators to reject the proposed oil law (see February 15, 2007), saying that it will only further divide the country. Mohammed Bashar al-Faidhi, spokesman of the Association of Muslim’ Scholars, says: “We call on members of the parliament to reject this law. This critical draft law would revive foreign companies’ control on Iraqi oil wealth that Iraq had gotten rid of years ago.” Saleh al-Mutlak, head of the National Dialogue party, similarly states: “Iraqis are suspicious that if the law is passed at this critical time that Iraq is passing through, they would think it would be passed in order to serve the interest of foreign companies. This law would also further divide the Iraqi people because most of them would oppose it.” Issam al-Chalabi, former Iraqi oil minister during the government of Saddam Hussein, notes that prominent Iraqi oil experts were not permitted participate in the drafting of the law and that it has never been reported on by the media so Iraqis are unaware of its implications. “Enough time should be given to draft the law before submitting it to the parliament for approval,” al-Chalabi says. [Dow Jones Newswires, 3/10/2007]
The insurance corporation AIG makes a profit for the second quarter of the year totaling $4.28 billion, a rise of 34 percent. However, when the results are published in August, AIG will not announce any writedowns in the value of subprime housing assets, even though analysts have said the company could lose as much as $3.25 billion in a worst-case scenario, and AIG’s stock closes at $66.48. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
Congress passes a $124 billion supplemental appropriations bill that would provide funds for the continued occupation of Iraq, but require that a majority of the troops be withdrawn by the end of the year. The bill, if signed into law by President Bush, will set a number of benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet, including the creation of a program to disarm militias, the reduction of sectarian violence, the easement of rules (see May 16, 2003) that purged the government of former Baath Party members, and the implementation of a law that would govern the development of the country’s oil sector (see February 15, 2007). If the Iraqi government fails to meet these requirements, the US would begin pulling out its troops on July 1. If it does meet the benchmarks, the withdrawal would be delayed until October 1, with the pull-out being completed no later than April 1, 2008. Some troops would remain in Iraq to protect US facilities and diplomats, fight US-designated terrorist groups, and train Iraqi security forces. [Washington Post, 4/26/2007; US Congress, 4/26/2007 ] President Bush will veto the bill on May 1. [Washington Post, 4/26/2007]
Haris Silajdzic [Source: Public domain]Press reports indicate that the Muslim leader of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Haris Silajdzic, is under investigation for international arms smuggling. Police are also said to be investigating former Bosnian Deputy Defense Minister Hasan Cengic, Elfatih Hassanein, and Turkish businessman Nedim Suljak. Hassanein was the head of the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) and Cengic was closely tied to TWRA. During the Bosnian war in the early 1990s, TWRA was a radical militant charity front providing cover for a massive illegal arms pipeline into Bosnia (see Mid-1991-1996). Silajdzic was Bosnian foreign minister during the war. Bosnian state prosecutors confirm that a weapons smuggling investigation into international illegal weapons smuggling had opened but refuse to say who is being targeted. [Agence France-Presse, 5/5/2007] TWRA has remained active and there are reports that it is still connected to radical militants (see January 25, 2002). In late 2006, it was announced that Hassanein was opening a new charity in Bosnia. [BBC, 12/29/2006]
Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan says in an interview: “Iraq was more than just a major distraction to Afghanistan. Huge resources were devoted to Iraq, which focused away from nation building in Afghanistan. The billions spent in Iraq were the billions that were not spent in Afghanistan.” Annan was the UN secretary general from 1997 until the end of 2006. [Rashid, 2008, pp. xli, 401]
The profit of the insurance corporation AIG falls by 27 percent in the third quarter of 2007, to $3.09 billion. The decline is due to housing-related costs, including a $352 million fall in credit default swaps, which AIG sold to protect debt investors from losses. Despite the troubles, AIG says it is “highly unlikely” that it will be required to make payments on the derivatives. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
Former KBR subcontract administrator Anthony J. Martin pleads guilty to violating the Anti-Kickback Act. Martin admits to taking bribes from a Kuwaiti company in 2003 in return for granting a $4.67 million contract to the firm. Although the Justice Department does not identify the Kuwaiti firm, other court documents subsequently name the firm as First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting (see September 21, 2007). Martin worked from February 2003 through February 2004 in Kuwait, where he solicited bids from prospective subcontractors under KBR’s largest contract with the US Army, the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP III). Martin’s conviction is part of a much larger investigation mounted by the Justice Department in Rock Island, Illinois, investigating corporate fraud in the provision of logistics to the US military deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan (see October 2006 and Beyond). Martin has admitted to accepting $10,000 from the managing partner of First Kuwaiti, Lebanese businessman Wadih Al Absi. He was to receive almost $200,000 more, but testified in his plea bargain agreement that he felt guilty about taking the $10,000 and subsequently refused to take any more. Martin faces up to ten years in prison and possible restitution. [PR Newswire, 7/13/2007; Associated Press, 9/21/2007]
Northern Rock, a large British bank specializing in mortgages, issues an upbeat set of trading results, saying the outlook for its business is “very positive.”
It reveals it has sold a record volume of mortgages in the first half of 2007, up 47 percent on the same period a year before. This gives it a 19 percent share of the new mortgage market, making it the market leader in Britain. It also announces a small increase in interim profits and pledges to increase dividends by 30 percent. However, it notes that “sharp increases” in borrowing rates in the money markets are likely to make life more difficult and that changes in “interest rate and credit risk environments” will influence the size of its annual profits. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Robert Lewis, the chief risk officer at insurance corporation AIG, says that virtually all of the company’s subprime mortgage holdings are safe unless the US housing market crashes to “depression proportions.” [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, is first alerted to the problems at the troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008] In a phone call with officials at the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the Treasury, he is told about the potential impact of the global credit crunch on Northern Rock’s business. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Matt Ridley, a former chairman of the troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock, asks Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King about possible support to help Northern Rock overcome a difficult period. In addition, Ridley starts to look for a buyer for the distressed bank. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008]
British Chancellor Alistair Darling is informed of “quite substantial problems” at the troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock. The notification comes from Sir Callum McCarthy, chairman of the Financial Services Authority. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008]
The rate at which British banks lend to each other—known as the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor)—rises to its highest level in almost nine years. The three-month loan rate hits 6.7975 percent, which is even higher than the Bank of England’s emergency lending rate of 6.75 percent. This suggests that banks are reluctant to lend money to each other because of the emerging credit crisis. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King writes to the Treasury Select Committee about current problems on financial markets. He tells it that the Bank will be prepared to provide emergency loans to any commercial bank that runs into short-term difficulties, provided this is because of temporary market conditions. However, he appears to rule out following the lead of the European Central Bank and US Federal Reserve in pumping huge sums into the banking system to ease problems with liquidity. [BBC, 9/13/2007; BBC, 8/5/2008]
News of the financial difficulties of troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock breaks in the British media. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008] The BBC reports that Northern Rock’s situation is so bad that it has asked for and been granted emergency financial support from the Bank of England, in the latter’s role as lender of last resort. BBC business editor Robert Peston says Northern Rock is not in danger of going bust and there is no reason for its customers to panic. However, he adds that “the fact it has had to go cap in hand to the Bank is the most tangible sign that the crisis in financial markets is spilling over into businesses that touch most of our lives.” [BBC, 9/13/2007]
Following a report that troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock has asked the Bank of England for emergency funding (see September 13, 2007), a run on the bank begins. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008] Northern Rock issues a statement confirming the emergency funding and blaming “extreme conditions” on financial markets. The Bank, the British Treasury, and the Financial Services Authority say they believe Northern Rock is solvent and that the standby funding facility will enable it to “fund its operations during the current period of turbulence in financial markets.” However, this does not reassure savers. The share price plunges 32 percent and depositors try to withdraw their savings. Queues form outside a number of branches, the bank’s website collapses, and its phone lines are jammed. Under current British legislation, savings are only protected up to £33,000 ($66,000). [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The Bank of England tries to find a buyer for the troubled British mortgage lender Northern Rock. It holds talks with Lloyds TSB, another large British bank, about possibly buying Northern Rock, but according to reports, by September 17 these discussions founder. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
British Chancellor Alistair Darling intervenes in the crisis surrounding the troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock. A run on the bank began three days ago (see September 14, 2007) and shows no sign of abating, as there are still queues outside a number of branches. Amid a further slide in the company’s share price and fears the run will undermine confidence in the whole banking system, Darling issues a statement saying the Treasury will guarantee all deposits held by Northern Rock. He says savers will not lose a penny and that his action is motivated by the “importance I place on maintaining a stable banking system.” The move appears to work and the queues outside branches will subside the next day. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
The Bank of England says it will inject £10 billion ($20 billion) into the money markets to try to bring down the cost of inter-bank lending. The move is prompted by the financial crisis, which has recently engulfed leading British bank Northern Rock. One week ago, Bank of England governor Mervyn King had said the Bank would not make such an injection (see September 12, 2007). [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008] “This represents a U-turn on support for money markets,” says Ian Kernohan, an analyst at Royal London Asset Management. He adds, “As every parent knows, it’s all very well to talk tough, but if you don’t follow up your credibility is damaged.” Calyon analyst Daragh Maher says: “Only one week ago, governor King was arguing against providing liquidity to money markets as this would risk causing greater problems further down the road. This strategy has come in for considerable criticism… [and the change announced today] will of course open it to further criticism that its earlier strategy was flawed and that this shift may be too little too late.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2007]
Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King defends his handling of the banking crisis that has recently hit mortgage giant Northern Rock to members of parliament. Facing accusations of “being asleep at the wheel,” King says it would have been “irresponsible” to have intervened earlier to save Northern Rock. He also says that he would have liked to have offered financial support to the company in secret but that British and European regulations made this impossible. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting, the Kuwaiti firm building the US embassy in Baghdad, is accused of agreeing to pay $200,000 in kickbacks in return for two unrelated Army contracts in Iraq. According to now-sealed court documents, First Kuwaiti worked with a manager for KBR, the US contracting firm that handles logistics for the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The document is based on grand jury testimony from the former KBR manager, Anthony J. Martin, who pled guilty in July to taking bribes from First Kuwaiti in 2003 (see July 13, 2007). The US government has tried to keep First Kuwaiti’s name out of public records related to Martin’s case. Martin told the grand jury that he took part in a bribery scheme with Lebanese businessman Wadih Al Absi, the controlling official of First Kuwaiti. That firm has done a large amount of work for US government entities, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the US Marine Corps. It is under investigation by Congress for its allegedly illegal labor practices, and the Justice Department is investigating the firm for alleged contract fraud on the embassy project. J. Scott Arthur, one of Martin’s defense lawyers, says the US government is improperly withholding evidence about Martin and his relationship with Al Absi and First Kuwaiti. Martin has said that he took kickbacks in return for his awarding a $4.6 million contract to First Kuwaiti to supply 50 semi-tractors and 50 refrigeration trailers for six months. A month later, Martin awarded First Kuwaiti an additional $8.8 million subcontract to supply 150 more semi-tractors for six months. In return, First Kuwaiti agreed to pay him $200,000. Martin says he took $10,000, then refused to take any more money. Martin will testify in the trial of former KBR procurement manager Jeff Mazon (see June 2003). First Kuwaiti denies any wrongdoing, and KBR says through a spokesperson that it “in no way condones or tolerates unethical behavior,” adding, “We have fully cooperated with the Department of Justice.” [Associated Press, 9/21/2007]
Troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock announces that it is canceling the dividend that it was due to pay shareholders in October. The dividend would have cost the bank £59 million ($118 million). In addition, the bank says that it is in preliminary talks with people who want to buy all or part of its business. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The insurance giant AIG makes the biggest quarterly loss in its 89-year history, $5.29 billion. This is primarily due to an $11.1 billion writedown of derivatives known as credit default swaps. The loss will be announced on February 28, 2008 (see February 28, 2008). [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
British Chancellor Alistair Darling announces that the government’s scheme to protect savers with money deposited in British banks and building societies is being expanded to guarantee 100 percent of the first £35,000 ($70,000) of savings. Previously, a slightly lesser percentage of the first £33,000 a saver had on deposit was guaranteed. Darling adds that this is the first stage of a wider reform of the compensation system. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
The British Treasury agrees to protect 100 percent of new savings deposited with distressed mortgage giant Northern Rock after September 19. The Treasury had issued a similar guarantee three weeks ago (see September 17, 2007), but that had only covered deposits made up to September 19. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The chief executive of the British Financial Services Authority, Hector Sants, tells a hearing of the Treasury Select Committee that the regulator did not expect distressed bank Northern Rock to run into trouble. He tells MPs, “In terms of the probability of this organization getting into difficulty, we had it as a low probability.” He also admits that there are “lessons to be learned” from the failed regulation of Northern Rock. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Chart showing default rate since beginning of surge. [Source: Wall Street Journal]A Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist writes that according to economic indicators, the US military surge in Iraq is not working, and actually may be undermining US military efforts to bring order to that ravaged nation. Until now, few have tried to measure the success of the surge by using financial indicators, in part because of the lack of usable economic data available from Iraq, but Michael Greenstone of MIT’s economics department has made just such an attempt, using the long-term performance of Iraq state bonds to gauge how investors believe the prospects in Iraq are shaping up. Greenstone is not optimistic. “After the surge, there was a sharp decline in the price of those bonds, relative to alternative bonds,” Greenstone writes. He judges the performance of Iraq state bonds and credit default swaps against benchmark performers such as the Lehman Brothers emerging markets bond index, and against bonds issued in Qatar. Greenstone draws the conclusion that the global market is betting more and more on the likelihood that Iraq will default on its bonds, and concludes, “This finding suggests that, to date, the surge is failing to pave the way toward a stable Iraq and may in fact be undermining it.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/11/2007]
A consortium led by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group puts forward a proposal to rescue troubled British mortgage lender Northern Rock. Under the plans, Northern Rock would keep its stock market listing, but would be rebranded as Virgin Money. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
Following the announcement of poor results for the third quarter the day before (see July-September 2007), shares in the insurance corporation AIG fall to $56. Despite the problems, in a conference call the company says it is “comfortable” with businesses and investments tied to the US housing market. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
Ahmed Idris Nasreddin is quietly removed from the US and UN terrorist financier lists. Neither the US nor the UN publicly announces the decision or explains why his name is no longer on an updated list of financiers. Nasreddin, a 78-year old businessman based in Italy and Switzerland, was formally listed in 2002 due to his ties with the banned Al Taqwa Bank (see November 7, 2001). That bank was considered one of the top funders for al-Qaeda and other militant groups until it was banned in late 2001. When asked by the Los Angeles Times about the delisting, the Treasury Department says the original listing was appropriate but Nasreddin was delisted because he submitted signed statements certifying he had terminated all business relationships with Al Taqwa and related entities and individuals. Former State Department official Victor Comras complains: “They seem to be saying that he was a bad guy but that he has renounced being a bad guy. If that’s the criteria, wow, a lot of people will try to get off the list. All they have to do is say, We’re not doing it anymore.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/28/2007]
Troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock announces that its chief executive, Adam Applegarth, has resigned. It originally says he will step down from his post after completing a review of the bank’s operations no later than the end of January 2008. However, he will actually leave early, in the middle of December. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
Troubled British mortgage lender Northern Rock names a consortium headed by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group as the preferred bidder to purchase it. The bank is up for sale because it has been hit hard by the credit crisis and requires new funding. The Virgin offer includes the immediate repayment of £11 billion ($22 billion) of the £25bn ($50 billion) Northern Rock has borrowed from the Bank of England to help it through the crisis. The remainder is to be paid over the next three years. RAB Capital, which is the second-largest shareholder in Northern Rock with a stake of about 6.7 percent, says it will oppose the move from Virgin. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
Martin Sullivan, chief executive officer of insurance giant AIG, says writedowns the company has been forced to make on assets linked to the US housing market are “manageable.” “The effectiveness of our risk management efforts will show through in our results,” he adds, sending shares up more than 4 percent to $58.15. Joseph Cassano, head of the company unit that sells derivatives known as credit default swaps, says the value of such contracts declined by $1.1 billion in the first two months of the fourth quarter. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008] Cassano’s statement is inaccurate, and AIG will later reveal the loss is close to $5 billion (see February 11, 2008).
The Olivant group unveils its rescue proposal for the troubled British lender Northern Rock, which is up for sale because of problems it has encountered during the credit crisis. Olivant is led by Luqman Arnold, formerly head of British Abbey bank. The company says it could immediately repay up to £15 billion ($30 billion) of government money that Northern Rock has borrowed to help it through the crisis. However, Olivant will later complain about the negotiating process and will not submit a final bid. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
Distressed British mortgage giant Northern Rock is dropped from the FTSE 100 index of leading London-listed blue chip shares. The move comes as part of the biggest shake-up of the index since the crash of 2001, when the “dotcom” investment bubble burst. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
SRM Global, a hedge fund that controls 9.9 percent of shares in ailing British bank Northern Rock, warns Chancellor Alistair Darling not to consider nationalizing the bank for less than a fair price. In a letter sent shortly before Christmas, SRM says it has been advised that otherwise there would be a breach of the Human Rights Act and it would have a strong case to pursue ministers through the courts. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Temasek Holdings, an arm of Singapore’s government, buys a large stake in the troubled US financial services company Merrill Lynch. It pays $48 per share, 13 percent less than the market value, and spends a total of $4.4bn. It also has an option to purchase a further $600m worth of shares by the end of March 2008, but agrees not to sell for a year. The asset manager Davis Selected Holdings also takes a smaller stake in Merrill Lynch. The shares purchased are newly issued, meaning the existing stockholders’ influence is diluted. However, the company needs the extra cash in order to cope with its losses on the subprime mortgage market. [Reuters, 12/25/2007] However, Merrill Lynch will sell more new shares for a lower price a few months later. This activates a clause in the agreement with Temasek saying it is entitled to a discount, totaling around 50 percent on the price of the shares sold in December 2007. Temasek reinvests this discount in additional Merrill Lynch shares (see July 29, 2008). [Agency France-Presse, 9/15/2008]
Insurance giant AIG makes a loss of $7.81 billion for the first quarter of 2008. In the previous quarter, it had lost over $5 billion, which at that time was its worst ever result (see October-December 2007). The loss will be announced in May (see May 8, 2008). [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
British Chancellor Alistair Darling tells the Financial Times that he is planning to give the Financial Services Authority (FSA) more power to deal with failing banks to avoid another crisis like the one that has engulfed Northern Rock (see September 14, 2007). He proposes giving the FSA the power to seize and protect customers’ cash if a bank gets into difficulties. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock agrees to sell £2.2 billion (about $4.4 billion) of its mortgage assets to US investment bank JP Morgan. The assets represent about 2 percent of its mortgage portfolio and the price represents a 2.25 percent premium on the assets’ value. Northern Rock says it will use the funds to pay back some of the £25 billion ($50 billion) in emergency loans it has been given by the Bank of England to help it through the financial crisis. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The British Treasury signs Ron Sandler, an experienced banker, to head ailing mortgage giant Northern Rock in the event of its nationalization, according to media reports. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008] Commercial companies are currently finalizing bids in an attempt to keep the bank private, but it will be nationalized the next month and Sandler will be appointed to run it. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
At a meeting with management, the largest two shareholders in the troubled British mortgage lender Northern Rock—hedge funds RAB Capital and SRM Global—put forward a proposal that will stop the bank’s management negotiating its sale without consent from its shareholders. The bank needs to be sold to a new owner because of problems it has encountered during the credit crisis, and both major shareholders are worried they will not get much for their holdings (see November 26, 2007 and Shortly Before December 25, 2007). However, the bank’s management argues that the proposal should be rejected, as it would make a sale harder, and the other shareholders follow their lead, opening the way for the bank to be sold. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown confirms that talks are taking place to secure a private sale of ailing mortgage bank Northern Rock. However, he also says he has not ruled out the possibility of nationalizing the bank. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
British Chancellor Alistair Darling announces a plan to sell government-guaranteed bonds worth about £25 billion ($50 billion) to help the sale of stricken mortgage giant Northern Rock to a private investor. The proceeds from the sale of the bonds would be used to pay off emergency loans the bank has taken out from the Bank of England. The British treasury thinks the bonds would speed up a private sale of the troubled lender. Although Northern Rock shares rise by about 42 percent on the news, the bank will be nationalized the next month and the bonds will not be issued. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
The House of Commons’ Treasury Select Committee says that Britain’s Financial Services Authority (FSA) was guilty of a “systematic failure of duty” over the crisis at stricken mortgage giant Northern Rock. MPs say the financial watchdog should have spotted the bank’s “reckless” business plan. In addition, they call for the Bank of England to appoint a head of financial stability. The FSA says it has already admitted failings in relation to Northern Rock and insists it is “addressing” them. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group submits a bid to take over the ailing British mortgage giant Northern Rock. Another bid is submitted by the bank’s own board of directors. These are the only two bids submitted by the deadline, as all the other potential buyers have already dropped out. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008] Under the terms of its rescue plan, Virgin would inject £1.25 billion (about $2.5 billion) into the bank and take a stake of 55 percent in it. The bank would be rebranded as Virgin Money. Northern Rock’s managers say their proposal—which gained shareholder backing—includes raising at least £500 million (about $1 billion), reducing the assets on the bank’s balance sheet, and reorganizing its operations. The managers criticize Virgin’s bid over the job cuts it entails, although Virgin says they are needed in order to rapidly repay the government money propping the bank up. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The British Office for National Statistics decides that £100 billion (about $200 billion) of debt owed by ailing mortgage giant Northern Rock will appear on government accounts, because of the government’s bailout of the bank. The move means the government may be at risk of breaking its rule to keep net debt below 40 percent of national income. The office stresses that the statistical change to public status should not be confused with nationalization, although the bank will actually be nationalized within days. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
The insurance corporation AIG submits a regulatory filing showing that its credit default swaps have declined four times more than previously announced (see December 5, 2007): by $4.88 billion in October and November of 2007. It also shows that AIG’s auditors have found a “material weakness” in the firm’s accounting for the contracts, and AIG does not know what they were worth at the end of 2007. The news means AIG shares suffer the worst one-day decline in two decades, falling 12 percent to $44.74. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
The British Treasury says that it does not like either of two bids recently submitted for stricken lender Northern Rock (see February 4, 2008). The bank is being propped up by government loans and could be sold to a private buyer so that the government can get its money back. However, the Treasury is not satisfied with the bids and sees nationalization as a better outcome for the taxpayer. One of the consortia, led by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, is told that it is the front-runner to take control of the bank. The Treasury urges both Virgin and its rival bidder to offer more. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The Washington Post publishes an editorial by New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, accusing the Bush administration of protecting predatory lenders from state officials through use of the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). Spitzer notes that since the OCC’s founding in the 1860s, its function was to monitor the records of national banks and ensure they were balanced. Yet as the current crisis in predatory lending became acute, the OCC used a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to make all state predatory lending laws inert. In addition, Spitzer asserts that the OCC created new rules making it impossible for state officials to employ their own consumer protection laws against national banks. Spitzer continues to note that when he opened an investigation of the mortgage lending practices of several banks, the OCC brought a federal lawsuit to prevent the inquiry from moving forward. “When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners,” Spitzer concludes, “the Bush administration… will be judged as a willing accomplice to the lenders who went to any lengths in their quest for profits.” [Washington Post, 2/14/2008]
British Chancellor Alistair Darling rejects two bids to keep troubled lender Northern Rock in private hands and says the bank will be nationalized. Darling says that both bids would require a “very significant implicit subsidy” from the taxpayer, so the bank is to be placed into a “temporary period of public ownership.” Ron Sandler, a banking executive sounded out by the government in advance (see January 12, 2008), is placed in charge of the now state-owned bank. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008] Shares in Northern Rock are suspended from trading the next day. Darling says the nationalized bank will operate “at arm’s length” from the government. Prime Minister Gordon Brown says the decision to nationalize is “the right move at the right time” and is one which “protects savers” and is in “the best interests of taxpayers.” Conservative Party shadow chancellor George Osborne tells MPs that Darling “is a dead man walking” and Conservative leader David Cameron demands Darling be fired over his handling of the nationalization. Sandler says it will take years for the bank to pay back its loans from the taxpayer, but declines to comment on potential job losses. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Chief Warrant Officer Pete Peleti, formerly the military’s top food adviser in the Middle East, is sentenced to 28 months in prison for taking bribes from US contractors operating fraudulent war-profiteering schemes in Iraq and Kuwait. Peleti took bribes from Saudi conglomerate Tamimi Global Co, US firm Public Warehousing Co, and others between 2003 and 2006. Among the bribes Peleti accepted was a trip to the 2006 Super Bowl. Peleti also accepted bribes from Tamimi executive Shabbir Khan to influence military contracts. In 2006, Peleti was arrested as he re-entered the US at Dover Air Force Base; he was carrying a duffel bag stuffed with watches and jewelry, and had $40,000 hidden inside his clothes. Peleti is now cooperating with prosecutors. This and other information about KBR war profiteering in Iraq comes from a federal investigation that will begin in late 2007 (see October 2006 and Beyond). [Chicago Tribune, 2/20/2008; Chicago Tribune, 2/21/2008]
The British financial website “This is Money” warns about the stability of the Kaupthing Edge banking product. Kaupthing Edge is a brand used to attract depositors by the Icelandic Kaupthing Bank. In response to a reader’s question about the brand’s soundness, correspondent Alan O’Sullivan points out that the rating agency Moody’s has recently described Icelandic banks as “fragile” and that its borrowing costs have increased 400% in the last year. For this reason, analysts think it is far more likely to default than any other European bank. As a result, O’Sullivan recommends that savers do not maintain balances on accounts with the bank in excess of the maximum limit on deposit insurance. [This is Money, 2/22/2008] Kaupthing Bank will collapse seven and a half months later. [Reuters, 10/9/2008]
Following the announcement of a major loss for the fourth quarter of 2007 (see October-December 2007), the insurance corporation AIG halts a program to buy back shares it announced the previous year (see November 14, 2007). In addition, the loss prompts AIG to say for the first time that realized losses in derivatives known as credit default swaps could affect operations during a quarter. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
Joseph Cassano, head of the financial products unit at troubled insurance giant AIG, will leave the company, Chief Executive Officer Martin Sullivan says in a statement. Cassano’s unit was responsible for a recently announced $11.1 billion writedown due to credit default swaps (see October-December 2007), and he is stepping down with the company’s consent. Cassano had co-founded the unit in 1987 and built it into a business providing guarantees on more than $500 billion of assets at the end of 2007, including $61.4 billion in securities tied to subprime mortgages. At the same time, AIG says it has $14.5 billion to $19.5 billion in “excess capital.” [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
To assist in the merger of Bear Stearns Companies, Inc. and JP Morgan Chase & Co., the US Federal Reserve authorizes the New York Fed to form Maiden Lane LLC, a Delaware limited liability company. Once established, Maiden Lane is extended credit by the Fed to acquire certain Bear Stearns assets. Maiden Lane funds the purchase of the Bear Stearns asset portfolio of mortgage related securities, residential and commercial mortgage loans, and associated hedges through senior and subordinate loans of approximately $29 billion from the New York Fed, and a much smaller amount, approximately $1.15 billion, from JP Morgan Chase. As of March 14, 2008, the asset portfolio has an estimated fair value of approximately $30 billion. [Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 3/2008]
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft denies any conflict of interest in his involvement in a deal for the Justice Department to monitor a corporation accused of breaking the law. Ashcroft, now a lobbyist for the Ashcroft Group, agreed for his firm to become a Justice Department monitor for Zimmer Holdings Inc, which manufactures replacement hip and knee joints. Zimmer agreed to pay $310 million in fees to settle charges of bribing doctors. Ashcroft was first asked to get involved in the deal in September 2007 by New Jersey US Attorney Christopher Christie, who worked for Ashcroft when he headed the department; reports indicate that Christie hand-picked Ashcroft in return for keeping Zimmer out of court. Such a deal is known as a “deferred prosecution agreement.” Ashcroft denies any involvement in the bidding for the contract, said to be worth between $28-$52 million—the Ashcroft Group is being paid $750,000 per month and $895 an hour, allegedly all from Zimmer—and denies any conflict of interest in his position.
Denial by Ashcroft - The no-bid contract was not “a backroom, sweetheart deal,” Ashcroft insists to a House Judiciary subcommittee investigating the deal. Ashcroft also denies that any public money has been spent on the deal, which was most likely engineered as part of a settlement agreement between Zimmer and the federal government. “There is not a conflict, there is not an appearance of a conflict,” says Ashcroft.
Alleged Conflict of Interests - The panel chairwoman, Linda Sanchez (D-CA) disagrees, saying that Ashcroft secured “what appeared to be a backroom, sweetheart deal” to serve as an independent corporate monitor and collect the multimillion-dollar fees. Sanchez also notes there was no public notice, no bidding, and Ashcroft had to use considerable time to prepare for the assignment and learn more about the business. She asks Ashcroft with apparent disbelief, “You don’t believe that it may be a conflict of interest in a former employee hiring the former boss, or suggesting that he be hired, for a very lucrative monitoring contract?” Ashcroft says that such a situation is not a conflict at all.
Monitoring "Lax" - Fellow House member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) says the current system of selecting monitors such as Ashcroft is far too lax, and can easily be manipulated by corporations with friends inside the Justice Department. Pallone is sponsoring legislation that would require federal judges to approve monitoring contracts.
Republican Reaction - Meanwhile, House Republicans defend Ashcroft, with one, Chris Cannon (R-UT) calling Sanchez’s questions “appalling.” Ashcroft’s ethics are “unquestioned,” he asserts. [Associated Press, 3/11/2008; Kansas City Star, 3/11/2008]
The United States Federal Reserve has lent Wall Street’s largest investment bank billions of dollars, as the credit crisis threatens to spiral into a full-blown banking crisis. In developments currently rocking the world’s financial markets, the Fed and rival Wall Street bank, JP Morgan Chase, are funneling emergency loans to Bear Stearns, whose exposure to battered credit markets has led to a crisis of confidence in its ability to continue trading. In accelerating numbers, clients and trading partners are pulling business from Bear Stearns, after rumors of its solvency began circulating. During a last-minute conference call with investors, management at the investment bank warned that its emergency lending facility with the Federal Reserve has failed to staunch the bleeding. “We have been subject to a significant amount of rumor and innuendo in the past week,” says Bear Stearns chief executive Alan Schwartz. “We attempted to provide some facts but, in the market environment, the rumors intensified and a lot of people wanted to act to protect themselves first from the possibility that the rumors were true, and wait till later for the facts.” Bear Stearns appears most fragile of Wall Street’s major investment banks, since the July 2007 collapse of two internal hedge funds, providing initial clues about the scale of the unfolding credit crisis. Shares across the banking sector plunge as analysts fear that the Fed’s willingness to intervene suggests that Bear’s future is pivotal to the banking system, and that its failure precipitates losses that may cascade through its trading partners. Bear Stearns stocks are in freefall, closing down 47 percent. Pierre Ellis at New York’s Decision Economics said, “Clearly the Fed is addressing what they feel is a systemic risk very aggressively.” [Belfast Telegraph, 3/15/2008]
Recently nationalized British bank Northern Rock says it will cut about 2,000 jobs and reduce its residential mortgage lending by half. The job cuts, which account for about a third of its staff, will be made by 2011 under plans to turn around the ailing bank’s fortunes. The staff unions strongly protest the move. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
A front page article in the Los Angeles Times reports that the US effort to fight the financing of terrorism is “foundering.” Insiders complain that the Bush administration’s efforts are stumbling over legal difficulties, interagency fighting, and disagreements with allied nations. Michael Jacobson, a recently retired senior adviser in the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, says, “The international cooperation and focus is dropping, the farther we get from 9/11.” The Times notes that “Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other key nations have not taken the necessary steps to crack down on terrorist financing or suspect money flowing across their borders.” Designations of terrorist financiers has slowed to a “trickle.” Militant groups are also using methods that are harder to trace, including sending money by donkey or mule. Robert Grenier, recently retired director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, says the US has exaggerated the successes of financial enforcement: “There’s been a lot of work done on it, a lot of focus. But as a method for identifying and capturing terrorists, it has not been significant.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/24/2008]
The British Financial Services Authority (FSA) admits failures in its supervision of recently nationalized mortgage giant Northern Rock. The FSA admits it is guilty of “a lack of adequate oversight and review” of the troubled bank, adding that too few regulators were assigned to monitor it. However, the FSA argues it should continue to have responsibility for regulating the banking system and says it will overhaul its procedures as a result of the weaknesses identified. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The recently nationalized British bank Northern Rock publishes its results for 2007, showing a pre-tax loss of £167.6 million (about $335 million). The bank also says it will be “significantly loss-making” in 2008, but pledges to repay its £25 billion (about $50 billion) loan from the Bank of England by 2010. In addition, it reveals that former chief executive Adam Applegarth (see November 16, 2007) will get severance payments totaling £785,000 (about $1,570,000). [BBC, 8/5/2008]
AIG makes a quarterly loss of $5.36 billion. This is its third such loss in a row, but is lower than the previous quarter’s loss (see January-March 2008). The loss will be announced on August 6. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
The European Union (EU) says it will launch a full investigation into the British government’s nationalization and bailout of troubled mortgage lender Northern Rock. Under EU rules, public support can be allowed to stop firms from going bankrupt, but long-term government aid that is seen to undermine competition is not permitted. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Shareholders in the recently nationalized British bank Northern Rock launch a court challenge over compensation they are due to receive from the government. The UK Shareholders Association submits an application for a legal review into the terms of the bank’s nationalization. According to the association, about 7,000 shareholders back the action. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
After announcing another record loss for the first quarter of 2008 (see January-March 2008), insurance giant AIG says it needs to raise $12.5 billion to protect against further possible writedowns due to problematic investments related to the US housing market. In addition, Standard and Poor’s and Fitch Ratings cut AIG’s credit rating after it announces the loss and the fact that it made more than $15 billion in first-quarter writedowns tied to credit default swaps and mortgage-backed securities. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
State-owned British lender Northern Rock says that mortgages in arrears for at least three months have increased significantly over the last four months. On April 30 they accounted for 0.95 percent of its total lending, whereas on December 31 of the previous year they were only 0.57 percent of lending. The bank also says the British mortgage market remains “uncertain.” [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Maurice Greenberg, a former long-time chief executive officer of insurance giant AIG, says in a regulatory filing that the insurer is in “crisis.” This is because its shareholders have lost about $80 billion in the past year. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
At the annual shareholder meeting of the insurance giant AIG, Chief Executive Officer Martin Sullivan says he is “not discouraged,” despite the fact that the company has posted successive losses (see October-December 2007 and January-March 2008). Company chairman Robert Willumstad says the directors support the management, adding, “We think Martin’s the right guy.” Shares close at $39.44, a 46 percent drop over the past year. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
’AngryRenter.com’ logo. [Source: AngryRenter (.com)]The Wall Street Journal learns that a supposedly amateur-based, citizen-driven protest Web site is actually a product of a professional public relations and lobbying organization, FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). The site, AngryRenter.com, is designed to look like something an “ordinary citizen” would produce. Michael Phillips of the Journal writes, “AngryRenter.com looks a bit like a digital ransom note, with irregular fonts, exclamation points, and big red arrows—all emphasizing prudent renters’ outrage over a proposed government bailout for irresponsible homeowners.” The site’s home page proclaims, “It seems like America’s renters may NEVER be able to afford a home,” and exhorts visitors to sign an online petition directed at Congressional Democrats. (The petition, with some 44,500 signatures, was delivered to Senate leaders earlier in the week.) “We are millions of renters standing up for our rights!” the site proclaims.
'Astroturf' - However, it is designed and hosted by FreedomWorks, which the Journal describes as “an inside-the-Beltway conservative advocacy organization led by Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, and publishing magnate Steve Forbes, a fellow Republican. [Forbes is an unpaid board member.]… [AngryRenter.com is] a fake grass-roots effort—what politicos call an astroturf campaign—that provides a window into the sleight-of-hand ways of Washington.” FreedomWorks opposes the proposed government bailout of the housing industry, and says it plans to oppose any further bailouts. AngryRenter.com is copyrighted by FreedomWorks, which discloses its ownership of the site on a page deeper into the site. However, Phillips writes, “The site is nonetheless designed to look underdoggy and grass-rootsy, with a heavy dose of aw-shucks innocence.” The site says: “Unfortunately, renters aren’t as good at politics as the small minority of homeowners (and their bankers) who are in trouble. We don’t have lobbyists in Washington, DC. We don’t get a tax deduction for our rent, and we don’t get sweetheart government loans.” Most visitors to the site have no idea that lobbyists for FreedomWorks actually wrote that copy, nor that FreedomWorks garnered $10.5 million in lobbying fees in 2006, most of which came from large donors the organization is not obligated to disclose.
FreedomWorks Operated by Millionaires - FreedomWorks president Matthew Kibbe says the site is an attempt to “reach out” to disgruntled renters who share the free-market views of Armey, Forbes, and others. Kibbe calls himself “an angry homeowner who pays his mortgage.” He lives on Capitol Hill in DC, in a home valued at $1.17 million. Forbes lives in a home in New Jersey worth $2.78 million, and owns, among other properties, a chateau in France. (The Forbes family recently sold its private island in Fiji and its palace in Morocco.) Armey earns over $500,000 a year working for FreedomWorks, and lives in a Texas home valued at $1.7 million. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) says he finds it amusing that Armey is portraying himself as a champion of ordinary renters. “I worked a long time trying to improve the condition of renters,” he says. “Dick Armey has usually been on the other side.”
Looking Out for the 'Poor Devil' Who Can't Afford to Buy a Home - Armey says he’s looking out for “the poor devil” who can’t afford to buy a house. “From our point of view, we have an industry in which people were very careless, very reckless—both lenders and borrowers. What various policy makers are saying is we need to rush in here with a program to protect people from the consequences of their own bad judgment.”
Deliberately Misleading? - Armey defends AngryRenter.com’s deliberately amateurish appearance, and calls it “voluntary” for civic participation. San Diego financial adviser Rich Toscano, who rents his home, thought the site was an amateur venture similar to his own blog, Professor Piggington’s Econo-Almanac for the Landed Poor, which chronicles foreclosures and other financial misfortunes suffered by real-estate brokers whom Toscano says helped inflate the area’s real-estate bubble. AngryRenter.com appeared to Toscano as genuinely citizen-produced: “It looks like a young person did it,” he says. He still supports the site even after learning that it is a production of a DC lobbying firm, saying the message is more important than the identity of the bailout. Web designer Chris Kinnan, a FreedomWorks employee, actually designed the site. Of himself, he says: “I’m a renter. I’m not an angry renter.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/16/2008]
Martin Sullivan, chief executive officer of insurance giant AIG, says the company needs to raise a total of $20 billion to cover potential losses related to credit default swaps. Sullivan made a similar announcement two weeks earlier, but the potential problem was substantially lower then (see May 8, 2008). Shares fall to their lowest level since 1998, closing at $38.12. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
During a PBS broadcast of a panel discussion about US interventions in the Middle East, host Bill Moyers observes that the hidden costs of the Iraq war are staggering. He notes that the huge number of suicides among US soldiers in Iraq as well as those who have come home is “the dirty little secret of this war.” The broken Veterans Administration, and its inability to provide decent medical care for the troops, is another, he says. Not only are these underreported in the US media, he says, even the economic costs get relatively little play, despite the fact that “The war’s costing us $5,000 a second, $12 1/2 billion to $13 billion a month,” with the costs ultimately soaring into the trillions of dollars. “[T]hat would seem to hit people in the viscera,” he says. Guest Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher says that the economic issues of the war are one of the biggest reasons why President Bush’s approval ratings stay below 30 percent, even as the media touts the “surge” (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007) as such a success. “[T]he reason is the people figured out long ago, long ago that the war was a mistake and that it’s incredibly costly in the human and financial and even moral terms.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
Insurance corporation AIG says the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department are probing the way it valued derivatives known as credit default swaps. AIG recently announced that it was having problems valuing the derivatives (see February 11, 2008). The company says it is cooperating with regulators, but shares in it fall 6.8 percent to $33.93. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
Martin Sullivan, chief executive officer of troubled insurance giant AIG, is fired and replaced by Robert Willumstad, formerly chairman of the company’s board of directors. Board member Stephen Bollenbach is also named lead independent director. The next day, Willumstad says “there will be no sacred cows” as he launches a companywide review of AIG’s operations. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008] However, he will only remain in the position for three months (see September 18, 2008).
The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) predicts “a full-fledged crash in global stock and credit markets over the next three months as inflation paralyzes the major central banks.” RBS credit strategist Bob Janjuah says, “A very nasty period is soon to be upon us—be prepared.” Bolstering Janjuah’s dire predictions, the RBS bank research team warns that the Wall Street equities index, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 index is likely to fall by more than 300 points to around 1050 by September as “all the chickens come home to roost” from what the Daily Telegraph describes as “the excesses of the global boom, with contagion spreading across Europe and emerging markets. Such a slide on world [markets] would amount to one of the worst bear markets over the last century.” Janjuah also warned of the credit crisis in 2007. RBS predicts that Wall Street would rally a little in early July before quickly fizzling out. “Globalization was always going to risk putting G7 bankers into a dangerous corner at some point. We have got to that point,” Janjuah says. RBS debt market chief Kit Jukes says Europe will not be immune from the problems: “Economic weakness is spreading and the latest data on consumer demand and confidence are dire.” [Daily Telegraph, 6/19/2008]
The leading British bank Barclays announces that it will issue new shares worth £4.5bn (about $9bn) to bolster its finances, which have been hit by losses on US mortgage-backed securities. Much of the new money will come from Asian investors, led by the state-run Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). The Qataris will invest £1.7bn (about $3.4bn), taking a 7.7 percent stake. [BBC, 6/25/2008] The QIA’s holding company is chaired by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, who is to invest another £533m (about $1bn) privately through a company named Challenger. [Daily Telegraph, 6/27/2008] The Japanese bank Sumitomo Mitsui will invest £500m (about $1bn) and existing shareholders are also to buy more shares. The China Development Bank will buy another £136m (about $270m) of shares, and the Singaporean investment fund Temasek will buy another £200m (about $390m) of them. [BBC, 6/25/2008]
Troubled insurance giant AIG makes a record quarterly loss of $24.47 billion. The loss is caused by writedowns on assets linked to subprime mortgages and capital losses. This is the worst loss it has ever made, coming hard on the heels of losses in the previous three quarters (see October-December 2007, January-March 2008, and April-June 2008). Over the four quarters, the combined loss totals $42.5 billion. The company will be in such bad shape that the government has to take it over by the end of the quarter (see September 16, 2008). The loss will be announced on November 10 (see November 10, 2008). [Reuters, 4/17/2009]
Recently nationalized British bank Northern Rock announces that its chief executive, Andy Kuipers, will leave the bank at the end of August 2008. Kuipers is the final member of its original board to leave the bank after the crisis that led to its nationalization. Northern Rock appoints the vice chairman of Barclays Bank, Gary Hoffman, as its new chief executive. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Temasek, an arm of the government of Singapore, increases its stake in troubled US financial services company Merrill Lynch. It had previously paid $5bn for new shares in the company (see December 25, 2007), but is now entitled to a discount on this totaling $2.5bn. It spends the discount returned to it by Merrill Lynch and an additional $900m on more shares in the company. Temasek pays around $24 per share, half of what it paid in December 2007. [Agency France-Presse, 9/15/2008; Bloomberg, 9/15/2008]
State-owned British bank Northern Rock announces bigger-than-expected losses of £585.4 million (about $1.170 billion) for the first six months of the year.
Much of the loss comes from the charges it takes to cover losses from struggling mortgage borrowers. However, it also managed to repay £9.4 billion (about $18.8 billion) of the emergency loan it had accepted from the Bank of England, reducing the amount owed to £17.5 billion (about $35 billion). The British government announces it will inject £3 billion (about $6 billion) to help the bank. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The stock price of troubled insurer AIG falls 18 percent, closing at $23.84, following the announcement of a third straight quarterly loss the previous day (see April-June 2008). This is the largest fall since the company’s 1969 initial public offering, although this record will be broken next month (see September 9, 2008). In addition, Chief Executive Officer Robert Willumstad refuses to rule out raising more capital to supplement the $112.2 billion AIG held as of June 30. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
Talks between Lehman Brothers and the Korea Development Bank end. The Koreans had been thinking about investing in the bank, enabling it to raise needed capital. However, they decide not to go through with the investment. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008] Lehman Brothers files for liquidation five days later (see September 14, 2008).
Shares in the insurance giant AIG fall 19 percent to $18.37. This is the company’s worst day of trading ever, beating the previous record set only a few weeks ago (see August 7, 2008). [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008; Bloomberg, 3/5/2009] The fall is caused by the news that the Korea Development Bank has backed away from a deal to purchase the ailing bank Lehman Brothers (see September 9, 2008), as this causes investors to become nervous about AIG’s ability to raise capital. [Bloomberg, 9/16/2008]
Bank of America concludes an agreement to buy the troubled financial services company Merrill Lynch. Bank of America will pay Merrill Lynch’s shareholders in shares, offering stock worth $29 per one share in Merrill Lynch, which is 70 percent more than Merrill Lynch’s current market price. The sale follows a 68 percent decline in Merrill Lynch’s share price during the year amid writedowns and credit losses of $52bn. [Agency France-Presse, 9/15/2008; Bloomberg, 9/15/2008]
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