Dubai Now Seeking 26 Suspects in Hamas Killing

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Raissa Kasolowsky and Cynthia Johnston

DUBAI (Reuters) – Dubai is hunting for at least 26 people over the killing of a Hamas commander in a Dubai hotel in a suspected Israeli operation that has caused a diplomatic furor.

Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed last month in his hotel room in what Dubai police say they are near certain was a hit by Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

Dubai police added 15 new names on Wednesday to a list of suspects wanted over the killing. Six carried British passports, three held Irish documents, three were Australian, and three French, the Dubai government said in a statement.

Israeli media reported on Wednesday the new list could involve further cases of identity theft.

Dubai authorities had earlier named 11 suspects, who they said travelled on fraudulent British, Irish, French and German passports to kill Mabhouh. Six were Britons living in Israel who deny involvement and say their identities were stolen.

“Dubai investigators are not ruling out the possibility of involvement of other people in the murder,” the statement said.

The suspected killers’ use of passports from countries including Britain and France has drawn criticism from the European Union. Some of the governments involved have summoned their Israeli ambassadors.

“We will not be silent on this matter. It is a matter of deep concern. It really goes to the integrity and fabric of the use of state documents, which passports are, for other purposes,” Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, as his government summoned Israel’s ambassador.

The Dubai statement said: “Friendly governments (which) have been assisting in this investigation have indicated to the police in Dubai that the passports were issued in an illegal and fraudulent manner.”

It said pictures on the passports did not correspond to their original owners.

In a statement on Monday that European diplomats said was intended as a rebuke to Israel, EU foreign ministers said that the assassination was “profoundly disturbing.”

Israel has not denied or confirmed it played any role but its foreign minister said there was nothing to link it to the killing. The United States, Israel’s main ally, has kept silent about the affair.

Mabhouh, born in the Gaza Strip, had lived in Syria since 1989 and Israeli and Palestinian sources have said he played a key role in smuggling Iranian-funded arms to militants in Gaza.

A Hamas official and Israel have also said he masterminded the capture and killing of two Israeli soldiers during a Palestinian uprising in the 1980s.

Like last week, Dubai police released passport photos and closed-circuit television footage of the new suspects, who police said arrived from cities including Zurich, Paris, Rome, Milan and Hong Kong.

“This was to take the camouflage and deception to its utmost level and to guarantee the avoidance of any security supervision or observation of their movements,” the statement said.

Once their part in the operation was completed, the suspects again dispersed to different parts of the world, with two suspects leaving Dubai by boat for Iran, it said.

Dubai police also released credit card details of some of the suspects. At least 13 credit cards used to book hotel rooms and pay for air travel were issued by the same small U.S. lender, MetaBank. The bank declined comment.

“MetaBank is declining comment pending a factual review of this matter,” it said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Israel’s Ynet news website said it had tracked down a person with the same name as one of the suspects living in Tel Aviv.

“I am in shock from what I just heard. This is an identity theft. I cannot believe it,” Adam Marcus Korman, an Australian-born Israeli, told the website.

Several other names listed as suspects by Dubai police were similar to those of people listed in the Israeli telephone directory, including two named as British passport holders. Reuters was not immediately able to contact any of those people.

Two Palestinians suspected of providing logistical support were in detention and Dubai’s police chief has said he believes the operation could not have been carried out without information from inside Hamas on Mabhouh’s travel details.

An official from the movement was quoted as saying last week that Hamas had launched an investigation to try to discover “how the Mossad was able to carry out the operation.

Mossad is believed to have stepped up covert missions against Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia as well as Iran’s nuclear project.

Mabhouh’s killing was the third high profile murder in less than two years in trade and tourism hub Dubai, one of seven emirates in the UAE federation, where violent crime is rare.

(Additional reporting by Rania Oteify in Dubai, Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem, Daniel Wilchins in New York and Rob Taylor in Canberra, Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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Oldest Swiss Bank Tells Clients to Sell U.S. Assets or Leave

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) — Wegelin & Co.,Switzerland’s oldest bank, is telling wealthy clients to sell their U.S. assets, or switch banks, because of concerns new rules will saddle investors with tax obligations in the world’s biggest economy.

U.S. proposals to extend reporting requirements for banks whose clients buy American stocks and bonds coupled with estate tax liabilities that may be inherited by the heirs of people who have such holdings prompted the advice from the St. Gallen, Switzerland-based bank, said Managing Partner Konrad Hummler.

“We came to the conclusion that it’s a threat to our clients,” Hummler, who is also president of the Swiss Private Bankers Association, said in an interview yesterday during a conference in Zurich. “It’s also a threat to us as a bank because as a custodian we are an executor to the estate. We find this aspect discomforting, so we recommend selling all American securities whatsoever.”

Hummler said he plans to raise the subject today at a meeting of the Private Bankers Association, which counts Pictet & Cie., Lombard Odier & Cie. and Mirabaud & Cie. among its members. Swiss banks, which manage $2 trillion, or 27 percent, of the world’s privately held offshore wealth, are struggling to protect bank secrecy after the government agreed to hand over the names of 4,450 UBS AG clients to U.S. tax authorities.

Hummler said he wouldn’t ask other association members to follow Wegelin’s lead. Wegelin, founded in 1741, manages more than 20 billion Swiss francs ($18.7 billion) in client assets.

“Every member is free to decide and act on their own,” he said.

HSBC Studies Alexandre Zeller,head of HSBC Holdings Plc’s private bank in Switzerland, said his company is still studying the new rules for qualified intermediaries and will do everything it can to comply with them.

“Often in these agreements you have to understand how this will be applied, and it would be premature, especially for an international bank, to take such a decision,” he said today, referring to Wegelin’s position. “It’s not on the agenda for the moment.”

The U.S. has proposed increasing reporting and oversight requirements for so-called qualified intermediaries — foreign banks that withhold taxes on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service. In addition, new rules may mean that people who spend limited periods oftime in the U.S. acquire tax obligations, including estate taxes,creating an unacceptable risk for Wegelin’s clients, Hummler said.

If a client decides to keep his U.S. investments, “then finally he has to change banks,” Hummler said.

“We’re talking about probabilities,” Hummler said. “My responsibility toward clients has to include any kind of probability,and if I see a real threat then we have to act.”

Wegelin is finding alternative ways of investing in the U.S. that won’t impose reporting requirements on the bank or tax liabilities on clients, Hummler said.

“The good thing is that in today’s world you can build up U.S.exposure in equities and as well in bonds through derivatives and index funds and so on, so we are switching to a European-made American exposure.”

Germany and France have also sought to weaken Swiss secrecy laws as they crack down on tax evaders.

The French government, which signed a double-taxation treaty with Switzerland on Aug. 27, obtained the names of 3,000 people suspected of tax fraud and holding accounts at three Swiss banks, French Budget Minister Eric Woerth, said Aug. 30 in an interview with the newspaper Journal du Dimanche.

“It’s not credible,” Hummler said. “The U.S. had a hard time getting these 4,450 names, then the French come and say we have 3,000? I cannot believe it, but they’re trying it on.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Warren Giles in Zurich at wgiles@bloomberg.net

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Offbeat Investment

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Martin de Sa’Pinto

ZURICH, August 24 (Reuters) – Few investors would be happy to see their assets turn sour, but an alternative investment launched recently offers them the chance to make a healthy return from just such a development.

Vinegar may be a unorthodox investment but Stefan Marti, managing director of vinegar maker Baerg Marti, said it has captured the imagination of many investors, especially from Russia and Asia.

“I was showing my bottled vinegar to some Japanese clients, and they asked me to sell them a barrel rather than bottles. They wanted their own barrel personalised with their logo so they could be identified with the product,” Marti told Reuters.

He said the clients were excited by the product and by its production process — it is matured in the Swiss mountains at an altitude of 3,000 metres for five years or longer in Limousin or cherry oak — which gave it a strong appeal as an investment.

Turmoil in the financial markets in 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 has boosted the attractiveness of unusual asset classes like fine wines, art, rare coins and violins, which investors hoped could perform through the crisis.

Although rallying equities and corporate bonds are pulling investors in once again, interest from around the world in Baerg Marti’s vinegar has been growing, Marti said.

Investors could see returns that outstrip those of many more conventional funds and expected average returns of 200 to 300 percent over five years, he said. However, as the project is new there are no past performance figures.

Baerg Marti is offering 5-year contracts on the vinegars, which use Swiss produce, including apples, strawberries and blueberries, at a cost of 11,500 Swiss francs ($10,850) per barrel, plus a yearly storage fee of 150 francs.

There will be no performance fee, although Marti said one may be introduced for high volume buyers.

When mature, the best balsamic vinegars can cost 3,000 francs and more for just 1 litre, Marti said. A barrel contains some 30 litres.

Investors would be tied in to the five year contract, after which they could hold the investment, resell the vinegar or use it.

The vinegar benefits from temperature changes high in the Swiss mountains, however, one risk is from earth tremors, which can damage the quality.

Marti, who said the main interest in the investment so far has come from Japan, China and Russia. He said the barrels were insured for 11,500 francs for the investment period.

The market is liquid enough to give investors an exit, with demand from buyers in many parts of the world, Marti said, although he was unable to say what sort of bid-offer spread investors could expect if they needed to sell quickly.

He said the initial number of investors would be restricted as the first site, on the Mutthorn mountain in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps, can hold a maximum of 500 barrels. Another site was in preparation, and would be ready in seven or eight months. ($1=1.060 Swiss francs)

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