Month: May 2019

Russia ordered to compensate for bankrupting Yukos

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Russia has been ordered to pay billions of dollars in compensation over the expropriation of now defunct oil producer Yukos.

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The court ruling is another blow to the government’s finances, as Russia faces increased sanctions over its actions in Ukraine.

Abby Dinham.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

It’s one of the largest arbitration cases ever.

GML Limited – once the biggest shareholder in the Yukos Oil Company – has been awarded $54.1 billion.

Their lawyer, Emmanuel Gaillard, called the ruling a major victory.

“Today is a great day for the rule of law. A superpower like Russia has been unanimously held accountable for its violation of international law by an independent arbitral tribunal of the highest possible repute.”

In 2003, President Vladimir Putin levelled massive tax claims against the country’s largest oil company – then owned by the country’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Unable to pay, Mr Khodorkovsky was imprisoned and his company’s assets seized.

The move was widely seen as retaliation for the businessman’s support for opposition political parties.

GML executive director Tim Osborne says Russia’s motives were never about taxes.

“The attacks by the Russian Federation on Yukos Oil Company, its founders – including Mikhail Khodorkovsky – and its employees, were politically motivated, and that the primary objective of the Russian Federation was not to collect taxes but rather to bankrupt Yukos and appropriate its underlying assets for benefit of the state.”

Mikhail Khodorkovsky spent ten years in prison before he was pardoned by President Putin in December last year.

He’s released a statement, saying “From beginning to end, the Yukos case has been an instance of unabashed plundering of a successful company by a mafia with links to the State.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the government will appeal the decision, claiming it was merely seeking payment for back taxes.

“You said it yourselves that the trial is not over yet and appeals are to follow. The Russian side and the government departments representing Russia at this trial will certainly use all possible legal means to defend their position.”

The ruling further damages Russia’s international standing at a time when relations are at their lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

Microsoft and China: Impossible bedfellows?

UPDATE: China has confirmed it is conducting a formal investigation into Microsoft.

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There’s a definite chill in the air.

American technology firms operating in China have felt it ever since Edward Snowden spilled the beans, alleging that America’s National Security Agency was spying on Chinese leaders with the help of US tech companies.

Now, Microsoft is the latest company to suffer the backlash.

Officials from China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the body responsible for enforcing competition laws, have met Microsoft managers in four Chinese cities.

The meetings could signal the beginning of an antitrust investigation into Microsoft’s possible monopoly over China’s operating system market.

One news agency, AFP, quoted a source saying that some Microsoft offices were raided as part of an investigation, though neither Microsoft nor the Chinese AIC agency has confirmed this.

“Microsoft is happy to answer the government’s questions,” the company said in a statement, without providing any further details.

The company hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing. And, AIC officials sometimes visit industries under government scrutiny but take no action.

However Qualcomm Inc, the world’s biggest mobile phone chip maker, is facing penalties that could exceed $1 billion, after being accused of overcharging and abusing its market position in China.

It’s too early to say whether the Microsoft meetings will result in an antitrust investigation, says Joe Sweeney, an analyst with Sydney-based IT advisory company Intelligent Business Research Services (IBRS).

“Who really knows? I wouldn’t be able to make a guess on that one. What I will say, however, is that the timing is more than coincidental. There are rising tensions, economic tensions, between the US and China and I think this incident forms at least part of that story.”

Mr Sweeney says those tensions have been rising for the last two decades as China moves from an industrial third world economy to a first world knowledge economy, putting foreign IT companies in the firing line.

“It’s about China is flexing its economic muscles, absolutely. Now that means that companies like Microsoft, like Google, are going to be facing an increasingly difficult time.

“Some months ago China announced that its government would no longer procure Microsoft Windows and would be moving towards the Linux-based operating system which is manufactured and developed in China. So we are seeing a great deal more emphasis on domestically-developed technologies for the domestic market.”

And part of Microsoft’s problem says Peter Grant, a former Microsoft State Director for Queensland and now analyst at IBRS, is that the company hasn’t encouraged compatability between its products and other technologies.

“Microsoft’s previous CEO was famous for saying that Windows is the air that Microsoft breathes. So they were encouraging all of their products to be run on Windows and for people to lock themselves in to a Windows environment,” Professor Grant says.

“Well, good business would say you wouldn’t do that in 2014 and the Chinese, being a green field, will almost certainly make that choice.”

But the Chinese government’s decision to bypass Windows is also a political one.

In May, a State Internet Information Office spokesman said “governments and enterprises of a few countries” were taking advantage of their monopoly status and technological edge to collect sensitive information.

The country’s state-run broadcaster recently aired a program that questioned the security of Windows 8, with Chinese experts alleging that Microsoft was cooperating with US government cyberspying activities.

Some say that’s retaliation for the US Justice Department charging five Chinese military officers with hacking American companies’ computers and stealing trade secrets.

The political angst between the US and China is not Microsoft’s only worry.

IBRS’s Joe Sweeney says consumers, not businesses, have become the main drivers of technology and that’s impacting those who’ve traditionally supplied businesses.

“It’s not uncommon to see police, ambulance, rescue personnel using their mobile phones instead of their workplace radio or file storage system. It’s not uncommon to see staff taking in their own mobile phones, with their own network connectivity to work and using their own personal technology rather than the company’s technology. The consumer technology is, in their minds, superior,” Joe Sweeny says.

“This is changing how companies buy their technology and Microsoft has to address that.”

To keep up, Microsoft has to persist in the smartphone market.

It bought Nokia earlier this year but last week announced it was shedding 18,000 jobs – 14 per cent of its workforce – and most would come from Nokia.

That’s indicative, Joe Sweeney says, of Microsoft’s struggles to make Nokia work.

“Microsoft has made, in past years, major fundamental mistakes about how it approaches the mobile phone space. It still continues to make those mistakes,” he says. “The issue here is that Microsoft believes that your mobile experience should be the same, or very, very similar to, your desktop experience. And while it does sound like a good story in reality consumers don’t actually want that. What they want is a highly optimised experience for the device they’re working on.”

Chinese smartphone users are no different, says Peter Grant, and so if Microsoft is to thrive in the Chinese market, it has to overcome that obstacle as well as the political ones.

“Smartphones is where the industry’s going and if you want to be successful in China that will be a cornerstone of how that’s done. People want to access as much as possible from mobile devices. So, smartphones and that market segment are absolutely critical.”

Discount website offering 40 per cent off private school fees

Inspired by website wotif, a site offering last minute cheap hotel deals, ‘School Places’ is the world’s first online marketplace for private school places, helps families search for and secure a discounted place in a private school via a transparent and simple online enrolment process.

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The site launched in Victoria in April, receiving 35,000 hits on its first day, but the Association of Independent Schools NSW has raised concerns.

Executive director Geoff Newcombe said discounted fees may cause create resentment amongst full fee paying parents and lead to an environment where parents choose not to wait on a list, instead opting for last minute specials. 

“If large discounts on fees are being offered the school needs to explain the rationale for this to its existing parents and school community,” he said.

“Heavily discounting fees may not be a sustainable practice since schools need to maintain their educational offerings to meet parent expectations.”

But the operators of the site said the system could help schools.

“The cost of running schools is growing faster than family incomes,” chief executive Natalie Mactier said.

“The kinds of fee increases we’ve seen in recent years just aren’t sustainable. Schools need to find new ways to increase their revenue and ensuring every vacant place is filled is a very good option.”

Several schools in Victoria and a handful in NSW have signed up, offering discounts of 10 per 40 per cent. So far more than 500 NSW parents have registered to be told when their school of choice has a discounted vacancy.

Parents can also search the site and filter results for location and enrolment year.

Registered schools pay a commission to the site when a vacancy is filled. 

Hughes scores double ton in AusA win

Phil Hughes’s double century has helped Australia A beat South Africa A by 148 runs in one-day match at Marrara Oval in Darwin.

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Hughes made an unbeaten 202, the highest score by a male Australian in a list-A fixture.

He brought up his ton in the 38th over, then went on to score his second 100 in 47 balls, finishing the innings with a six to bring up his double ton.

Moises Henriques supported Hughes at the crease with a career best 90 runs to help Australia A finish their innings at 3-349.

Despite the knock and some instantaneous calls for his return to the top team on social media, Hughes is taking a wait-and-see approach to his chances of joining Michael Clarke’s side once more.

“That was a great feeling to come back, after being away for a week and to get 200. The first time I have ever scored one in this format – it’s a day I will never forget,” Hughes said.

“To help the boys get over the line today was a real good feeling.”

Making the innings more memorable was the battle Hughes faced on a pitch that was a little unpredictable early in the innings, and he was ecstatic with the knock and the one played by Henriques.

“Our plan was to get through that first 15-20 overs, build a partnership and cash in at the end,” he said.

“Moises played beautiful and showed really good intent from ball one, and made my job easier at the other end.

“All I have to do is continue to score consistent runs and help set up and win games for Australia A.

“Everything else is out of my hands and out of all the boys hands. The boys are putting some really good performances on the board individually. It comes down to the selectors at the end of the day.”

Hughes, who has been dealing with family issues dedicated the knock to his ‘pop’.

“I can definitely dedicate this to my pop, especially my dad as well. It’s sad times for the family, but that’s life really and I can give this one to pop.”

Kane Richardson performed with the ball again, taking 4-45 while Cameron White and Cameron Boyce both picked up two wickets each as South Africa A were bowled out in the 38th over, 148 runs short of their target.

HUGHES RECORD-BREAKING KNOCK:

*202 not out from 151 balls at strike rate of 133.77

*Moved from 110 to 202 in the final 10 overs of Australia A’s innings

*Scored 18 off the last over, and 19 off the 48th over

*Hit 18 fours and six sixes.

Govt pays $330,000 for media briefing room

Taxpayers have forked out close to $330,000, including $800 for a doorknob, for a border protection media briefing room that hasn’t been used since its completion 10 months ago.

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Construction and fit-out costs for the high-tech theatrette totalled almost $235,000 while the annual cost of having it on stand-by is running at about $100,000.

The government is leasing the premises, next to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s aid office in Canberra, until June 2016.

It is also paying $10,000 a month to hire audio visual equipment on top of a $30,000 bill for rented stage lights, according to documents obtained by AAP under Freedom of Information.

The heavily blacked-out documents reveal the facility was ready for media briefings in October 2013, but it has never been used for that purpose.

It is understood the room was intended for Operation Sovereign Borders media briefings presented by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison until late last year.

Instead, the weekly briefings were held at commonwealth offices in Sydney.

The briefings ended in December, coinciding with reports of asylum-seeker boat turn-backs which the government refused to discuss.

In Canberra, Mr Morrison has mostly used Parliament House facilities for border protection-related press conferences.

In mid-July, he launched a national border targeting centre at the Customs and Border Protection headquarters, located across the road from the briefing room.

He addressed reporters after the launch in a Customs room.

The unused media centre has large LED monitors, a projector, spotlights, two podiums with microphones, audio splitters and space to fit four television camera tripods and seating for 20 journalists.

Invoices show $800 was spent on a single doorknob.

In a statement Customs said that cost was for “large metal grab handles fixed to both the inside and the outside of a glass panel door”.

It also claimed the annual operating cost of the room for 2014/15 would be around $37,000 and it would continue to be used for internal meetings and as a media conference venue as needed.