DealBook Briefing: Want to Avoid Corruption? Don’t Invest Here

DealBook Briefing: Want to Avoid Corruption? Don’t Invest Here

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Where is it hardest for investors to avoid corruption?

For anyone who is nervous about corruption clouding their investments, here’s some advice: Avoid Turkmenistan. That is from Risk Advisory’s annual survey about global corruption challenges, based on the company’s due diligence on 187 countries over the past year.

• “The index’s most challenging countries are those assessed to have a high risk of both petty and grand corruption, less stable regimes and low availability of public information and business intelligence,” Risk Advisory explains.

• Turkmenistan faces the world’s largest corruption challenges, followed by Libya and Somalia. Those three are also the hardest countries in which to obtain reliable data.

• The industries most affected by the challenges of corruption are construction and development, infrastructure, and oil and gas.

“The U.S. and Canada remain among the ‘safest’ jurisdictions in our index from an anti-corruption perspective,” Tom Smith, the head of business intelligence for North America at Risk Advisory, said in a statement. “That said, petty corruption remains a concern for our clients in both countries, especially in the real estate and construction industries.”


Today’s DealBook Briefing was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin in New York, and Michael J. de la Merced and Jamie Condliffe in London.


Bank C.E.O.s will celebrate reforms in Washington tomorrow

A decade on from the 2008 financial crisis, the leaders of some of the largest U.S. banks will gather in Washington to testify before the House Financial Services Committee.

This is part of a push by House Democrats to examine the industry. And according to written testimonies published yesterday, the bank C.E.O.s plan to offer a unified message: Regulation has made the financial system less risky. Here’s what the executives will say:

• David Solomon of Goldman Sachs: “Today the U.S. financial system is substantially safer and more resilient against failure or disruptions in critical services.”

• Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase: “Through regulatory reform efforts, we have fundamentally improved the safety and soundness of our financial system, substantially raised capital and liquidity requirements at our largest institutions and established a credible resolution planning process to ensure that taxpayers will no longer be on the hook in the event of failure.”

• James Gorman of Morgan Stanley: “We have significantly transformed Morgan Stanley over the last 10 years. We are now a safer and sounder financial institution focused on helping our clients finance economic growth, job creation, retirement security, college savings, and more.”

• Michael Corbat of Citigroup: “Since the crisis, Citi has become a smaller, safer, stronger and far less complex company. We have transformed our institution, not just in terms of capital, balance sheet, or earnings, but also in terms of our controls, which include risk management, audit and compliance.”

The U.S. threatens tariffs on $11 billion of E.U. goods

The Trump administration has proposed imposing tariffs on $11 billion worth of imports from the European Union, to punish the bloc for providing what it says are unfair subsidies to Airbus, the WSJ reports.

The W.T.O. says European subsidies to Airbus have harmed the U.S., according to the office of the U.S. trade representative, an argument that it has made since 2004. The new tariffs — which would affect products like helicopters, motorcycles, cheese and wine — would come into effect when the W.T.O. confirms the extent of the subsidies’ harm this summer.

“The time has come for action,” Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, said. “Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the E.U. to end all W.T.O.-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft. When the E.U. ends these harmful subsidies, the additional U.S. duties imposed in response can be lifted.”

Expect blowback. The E.U. has been dragging its heels on devising a strategy for trade discussions with the U.S. to avert new American tariffs on European car imports. The latest news could make that more complicated.

Everyone wants a piece of Aramco

Saudi Aramco’s first international bond offering is poised to be a runaway success. Despite concerns about the Saudi government, investors are leaping at the chance to invest in the giant oil company, Stanley Reed and Michael de la Merced of the NYT report.

The order book for the bond sale has surpassed $85 billion, according to Bloomberg. Aramco had initially planned to sell about $10 billion worth of debt to help finance its $69 billion takeover of Sabic, a Saudi chemical producer.

Aramco executives got the red carpet treatment everywhere they went to hawk the bond offering last week. In London, prospective investors crowded into the upscale Corinthia hotel to hear about the deal. In New York, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase personally pitched the sale.

The attraction is simple. Aramco is wildly profitable — it made $111 billion last year — and dominant. “The more someone doesn’t need money, the more we want to give it to them,” Reza Karim of the fund manager Jupiter Asset Management told the NYT.

But some analysts worry about Aramco’s future. Both the Sabic deal and a push to take Aramco public are being driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a change to the historical norm in which the Saudi royals basically left the company alone. (The crown prince plans to use the proceeds to wean Saudi Arabia off its dependence on oil.)

How investigators could pursue legal action against Boeing

Aircraft manufacturers like Boeing rarely face a criminal investigation over plane crashes. But Peter Henning of DealBook asks: What federal criminal laws are investigators looking at as they pore over Boeing’s records?

• “One statute they may consider is the federal false statements law. The broad statute is used when a company provides information to a federal agency like the Federal Aviation Administration to certify the safety of a plane and makes it a crime to provide an agency with ‘any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation.’ ”

• The criminal investigation may also examine a statute that “makes it a crime to ‘knowingly and with intent to defraud’ falsify or conceal a material fact about an aircraft part, or to make ‘any materially fraudulent representation’ about a part. It can be applied to conduct outside the United States so long as the company is organized under the laws of this country.”

• And “if there is evidence of fraud and not just false statements, the Justice Department could also pursue a wire fraud case.”

“There is danger in any criminal investigation because even the hint of possible misconduct could have significant consequences as it tries to deal with the fallout from crashes of its best-selling aircraft.”

More: It isn’t just anti-stall software in the 737 Max jet that may need updating. And investigators still have questions about how the pilots of the doomed Ethiopian Airlines flight reacted to their plane’s problems.

Steven Mnuchin takes heat over Trump’s taxes

As House Democrats battle with President Trump over his tax returns, a key figure in that fight has emerged: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to Alan Rappeport of the NYT.

Mr. Mnuchin oversees the I.R.S., which is expected to decide whether to accede to lawmakers’ demands for six years’ worth of Mr. Trump’s returns. Democrats are using a little-known provision in the tax code that they say entitles them to the documents.

Mr. Trump has denounced Democrats’ request as political harassment. The acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, has pledged that they will “never” see the returns.

Mr. Mnuchin has been more cautious. In October, he said that if Democrats won the House and requested the returns, he would work with government lawyers to see if the demand was legal. More recently, he said he would protect the president’s privacy rights.

But he will have a tough day on Capitol Hill today, where in back-to-back hearings he’ll face questions about how he plans to handle the tax return issue.

Felicity Huffman will plead guilty in the college admissions scandal

The Hollywood actress was one of several parents to admit yesterday that she participated in a huge scheme to get their children into top schools using bribes, Kate Taylor of the NYT reports.

• Ms. Huffman acknowledged that she paid $15,000 to have a proctor correct her daughter’s answers on the SAT. “This transgression toward her and the public I will carry for the rest of my life,” she said in court. “My desire to help my daughter is no excuse to break the law or engage in dishonesty.”

• Last week, Gordon Caplan, the former co-chairman of the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, said he planned to plead guilty as well.

• Ms. Huffman will plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. She will probably get a lesser punishment because of her guilty plea (and because her payment to the scheme was one of the smallest in the case).

• Prosecutors said that 14 people — 13 parents and one coach — would plead guilty in the case. Overall, 33 parents have been charged.

• Other prominent defendants in the case, including the actress Lori Loughlin, haven’t yet entered a plea.

Revolving door

President Trump forced out Randolph Alles, the director of the Secret Service, yesterday, continuing a purge of leaders at the Department of Homeland Security.

The law firm Lowenstein Sandler has hired Rachel Maimin, a former federal prosecutor who worked on the government’s case against Michael Cohen, and Gregory Baker, a former senior lawyer at the S.E.C., as partners.

Nomura’s chief risk officer, Lewis O’Donald, is one of a dozen senior executives leaving the Japanese bank amid deep cuts to its operations.

Katrina vanden Heuvel will step down as publisher of The Nation after 24 years.

The speed read


• Dan Loeb’s Third Point is reportedly preparing another activist campaign at Sony. (Reuters)

• Wynn Resorts has offered $7.1 billion to buy Crown Resorts, the Australian casino company. (FT)

• Eleven Democratic senators plan to investigate Juul’s sale of a 35 percent stake in itself to Altria. (CNBC)

• Gizmodo Media Group, the owner of The Onion and former Gawker sites, was sold to Great Hill Partners. (WSJ)

• Capitol Investment Corp. IV, a publicly traded investment firm run by the investor Mark Ein, has agreed to buy the telecom equipment provider Nesco in a $1.1 billion deal. (Capitol Investment)

Politics and policy

• A majority of respondents in a recent Wall Street survey said that Stephen Moore and Herman Cain, whom President Trump may nominate to the Fed, are unqualified and shouldn’t be confirmed. (CNBC)

• The St. Louis Fed argued that the Federal Reserve’s raising of interest rates isn’t hurting the economy, rebutting Mr. Trump’s criticism of the central bank. (CNBC)

• The Treasury Department allowed the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to transfer tens of millions of dollars worth of stock to his children as part of a deal to lift sanctions on his businesses. (NYT)

• A feud between Mr. Trump and Representative Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, arose out of a fight over Manhattan real estate decades ago. (WaPo)


• British lawmakers passed a bill that forces the government to set out a timetable for any Brexit delay, in an attempt to avoid the country crashing out of the E.U. without a deal. (Guardian)

• Prime Minister Theresa May will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France today, seeking another Brexit delay. (Reuters)

• Michel Barnier, the E.U.’s chief Brexit negotiator, has warned that the bloc may not grant the U.K. a long delay to the process unless Mrs. May backs a customs union. (Guardian)


• Uber doesn’t expect autonomous cars, which are a big part of the company’s plan for profitability, to be a widespread presence anytime soon. Also: A look at the legal risks the company will have to play down to investors in its coming I.P.O. (Reuters, FT)

• The E.U. published its first guidelines for the ethical development of A.I. (FT)

• Walmart is expanding its use of robots in stores to perform tasks like monitoring inventory, cleaning floors and unloading trucks. (WSJ)

• Germany’s top data protection officer claims that Amazon’s cloud computing systems are vulnerable to U.S. snooping. (Politico)

• China’s state macroeconomic planning agency says it may ban Bitcoin mining in the country. (Reuters)

Best of the rest

• Carlos Ghosn has spoken out about his downfall in a new video: “This is about a plot, this is about conspiracy, this is about backstabbing.” (NYT)

• Newly proposed banking rules by the Fed would reduce capital requirements and the frequency of stress tests for many financial institutions, but tighten liquidity rules for foreign banks. (FT)

• Standard Chartered is expected to pay more than $1 billion to settle an investigation of potential U.S. sanctions violations relating to its work for Iran in Dubai, as well as a related British investigation. (Reuters)

• What downturn? The Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq are all very close to record highs. (Barron’s)

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