Showing posts with label France. Show all posts
Showing posts with label France. Show all posts

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Explosives stolen from French army base

French soldiers guard the Eiffel Tower in January after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices. Security was stepped up further after the attack on a Lyon chemical plant. Photograph: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images
French authorities are investigating the theft of roughly 200 detonators plus grenades and plastic explosives from a military site in southern France.

The thefts at the Miramas site, which is operated by a combination of military services west of Marseille, appeared to have taken place overnight from Sunday to Monday. The break-in came with France on its highest level of alert for terrorism following deadly attacks in January and June.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said an investigation had begun into charges of “theft with break-in carried out by a criminal group” and “fraudulent entry into a military compound”.

An official with the gendarmerie police force, which generally runs law enforcement in more rural areas of France, said the thief or thieves appeared to have cut through a fence to enter the high-security site.

Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he has ordered an investigation into how the break-in was organised and who might be responsible. He also instructed a new office in charge of protecting such sites to review the security for all French military weapons stocks and propose “corrective measures” within 15 days.

The mayor of Miramas, Frederic Vigouroux, said he did not know precisely what was stolen, but said it was the first theft at the site. He said the outer fences were broken into, and that nine storehouses were affected.

“It wasn’t cotton candy that was stolen,” he said. “These are dangerous munitions. Everything is inherently dangerous.”

A spokesman for the French military said about 160 civilians and soldiers work on the site daily, and guards with sniffer dogs patrol behind two fences separated by a “no-man’s-land”. He said the explosives are relatively easy to use.

The 200-hectare (500-acre) base sits on the outskirts of the town of 30,000 and stocks munitions of the type used in French military operations in Mali and Afghanistan.

France raised security levels after a man beheaded his boss and tried to blow up a chemical plant near Lyon on 26 June. In January gunmen in Paris killed 17 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery store.

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Friday, 1 August 2014

France's Iliad challenges Sprint for control of T-Mobile

A T-Mobile store sign is seen in Broomfield, Colorado February 25, 2014.
French telecommunications company Iliad SA ILD.PA has made a surprise offer for T-Mobile US Inc TMUS.N, setting up a potential bidding war with Sprint Corp S.N, the U.S. mobile carrier now controlled by Japan's Softbank Corp 9984.T. The approach will further shake up a U.S. media and telecoms market already in tumult as a series of U.S. cable and cellular operators have bid for rivals to cut costs amid slowing growth. The market and its relatively healthy margins remain alluring to some foreign operators like Softbank and Iliad, however. Iliad, which has shaken up the French mobile and broadband market in the past decade with its cheap, pared-down subscriber plans, bid $15 billion in cash for 56.6 percent of T-Mobile US at $33 per share, it said in a statement on Thursday. The Paris-based company said its offer for the fourth-largest U.S. carrier values all of T-Mobile at $36.20 per share, a premium of 42 percent to the pre-announcement share price, once expected cost savings of $10 billion were taken into account. That is less than the roughly $40 per share Sprint agreed to pay under the broad terms of an agreement worked out with Deutsche Telekom AG DTEGn.DE, T-Mobile's majority owner. The terms of that proposal, which followed months of talks and which was reported by Reuters in early June, would value T-Mobile at nearly $32 billion. Deutsche Telekom and Sprint declined to comment. A spokesman for Softbank in Tokyo also declined to comment. Despite Iliad's lower offer, three people close to the French company said founder Xavier Niel believes he has a strong card to play because his bid would not face the antitrust scrutiny that confronts Sprint in trying to merge the third and fourth-biggest U.S. mobile operators. "SoftBank has been told in many very clear coded words that the Department of Justice and the FCC would probably not approve the acquisition," said Reed Hundt, a former chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. "There's no question to me that the FCC would say 'bienvenue'" to the proposed Iliad deal. The FCC and Department of Justice expressed a desire earlier this year to have at least two more network operators competing against AT&T and Verizon. The T-Mobile offer is Niel's most audacious attempt at extending his reach beyond France, Monaco and Israel, where he owns part of operator Golan Telecom. Still, his bid to enter the United States mobile market is a long shot, some investors and analysts say. The French company specializes in broadband and lacks experience in mobile, T-Mobile's main business, having launched its mobile service only in 2012. It is also unfamiliar with the demands of competing in the United States, with its massive coverage needs and deep-pocketed competition from AT&T Inc T.N and Verizon Communications Inc VZ.N, the market leaders. Iliad expects $10 billion in savings from the deal. While it provided no further details, sources familiar with the situation said the French upstart believes it could generate $1.5 billion to $2 billion in additional earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) per year by running T-Mobile in a more streamlined manner. T-Mobile is inefficient and badly managed on the cost front, they argued. Still, some analysts said the Iliad offer could falter on price alone. "We are skeptical that T-Mobile and its shareholders, including Deutsche Telekom, will find this bid attractive," Credit Suisse analysts Joseph Mastrogiovanni and Michael Baresich wrote in a research note. "However, it could put pressure on Sprint to move sooner rather later. EMPIRE BUILDING Few doubt the scale of Neil's ambitions. The entrepreneur, an unknown outsider in France when he started out, has joined the elite, lunching with ministers, starting a tech school, and holding part ownership of the influential Le Monde newspaper. He earned his first fortune from an adult chat and dating service on the Minitel, a rudimentary computer network that pre-dated the Internet in France. He then surfed on a wave of market liberalization in telecoms to create Iliad. In many ways Niel is similar to Masayoshi Son, the head of Softbank and his rival for T-Mobile US. Both have operated their companies as challengers who cut prices and take on larger rivals with bigger resources. Niel sees the U.S. market as ripe for the kind of challenge Iliad mounted in France, where its entry into the mobile market in 2012 sent prices down 30 percent and hurt the profits of bigger rivals Orange SA ORAN.PA and SFR, as well as Bouygues SA BOUY.PA. He ranks 133rd on Forbes' list of billionaires, with a net worth of $9.5 billion. Son, who is also Sprint's chairman, has pledged to start a price war in the United States, and he has said industry consolidation would allow Sprint to compete more effectively against Verizon and AT&T. He owns 19.3 percent of Softbank and is 46th on the Forbes list, with a net worth of $18.4 billion. T-MOBILE TURNAROUND T-Mobile would appear well-suited for the role of challenger championed by Niel and Son. Last year, it turned around years of subscriber losses using a strategy that eliminated contracts, restructured plans and set off a race to slash prices across the industry. Earlier on Thursday, T-Mobile posted a net profit after a year of losses, and reported the industry’s largest post-paid phone subscriber additions of the quarter. T-Mobile Chief Executive Officer John Legere, known for his outspoken and sometimes abrasive style, has come to define T-Mobile’s new audacity, epitomized by his frontal attacks on competitors, offering to pay early termination fees for customers who defect from rivals, for example. “We know this is a scale industry. Scale brings advantage,” T-Mobile Chief Financial Officer Braxton Carter told Reuters earlier on Thursday. “What we’ve seen so far is a glimpse of what real competition in this industry looks like. If we could turbo-charge it, it could be an incredible opportunity to bring more competition to the market.” BIG BITE FOR ILIAD Iliad said it would finance its offer, which was earlier reported by the Wall Street Journal, through a mix of equity and debt, and that it already had the backing of unnamed international banks. Nevertheless, the deal would be a big bite for Iliad. Its market capitalization of just above $16 billion compared with about $25 billion for T-Mobile US. T-Mobile owner Deustsche Telekom will now have the benefit of two bidders. One person close to the German company also said a deal with Iliad had a certain appeal because of the lower risk of being blocked by U.S. regulators. A second person said there were doubts whether Iliad's offer was competitive or could get financing, but added that it could be worth taking a discount to avoid heavy regulatory scrutiny. Three years ago, regulators rejected AT&T's $39 billion bid for T-Mobile US, which resulted in AT&T paying Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile's full owner, a reverse break-up fee of $6 billion in cash and U.S. mobile assets. T-Mobile shares closed up 6.5 percent at $32.94 on the New York Stock Exchange, just below the Iliad offer price. Sprint shares were down 5.3 percent at $7.35
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Monday, 30 June 2014

U.S. government to unveil near $9 billion fine for France's BNP: sources

The logo of BNP Paribas is seen on top of the bank's building in Fontenay-sous-Bois, eastern Paris, May 30, 2014.
(Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is expected to announce on Monday a settlement with BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA) involving a record fine of nearly $9 billion over alleged U.S. sanctions violations by France’s biggest bank, sources familiar with the matter said. The penalties, which the sources said may also include a temporary ban on some dollar-clearing business, could hit BNP's dividend payout, regulatory capital ratios and its investment banking targets, analysts say. BNP is expected to plead guilty to a criminal charge in Manhattan Federal Court on Monday and the U.S. Justice Department is planning a news conference in Washington to announce a deal the same day, sources said. However the lender is expected to retain its banking license from the New York state banking regulator, after negotiations which, according to sources close to the matter, at one point raised the prospect of an even bigger fine up to $16 billion. "I want to say it clearly here: we will receive a heavy penalty," BNP Chief Executive Officer Jean-Laurent Bonnafe told staff in an internal message sent on June 27 and seen by Reuters. "However, the difficulties that we are currently experiencing must not affect our plans for the future." The bank has not commented publicly on the case since it warned shareholders on May 14 that the fine could be stiffer than the $1.1 billion for which it originally provisioned. A BNP spokeswoman declined to comment. Shares in the group were 0.6 percent higher at 49.660 euros in early Paris trade. U.S. authorities are examining whether BNP evaded U.S. sanctions relating primarily to Sudan between 2002 and 2009, sources have said. A $9 billion fine, not far short of BNP's entire 2013 pretax income of about 8.2 billion euros ($11.2 billion), would be the largest penalty paid by a European bank to date for violations of sanctions imposed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, Morgan Stanley analysts said. BNP has only said publicly that it is in discussions with U.S. authorities about "certain U.S. dollar payments involving countries, persons and entities that could have been subject to economic sanctions". Last month it said it had improved control processes to ensure mistakes did not occur again. FAIR AND PROPORTIONATE French President Francois Hollande has appealed to his counterpart Barack Obama to ensure any penalty is fair and does not have repercussions for Europe's economy. Obama has replied that it is purely a matter for the judiciary. European Union internal market commissioner Michel Barnier said it was normal that any breach of rules be punished. "That's exactly what we do over here if a U.S. company does not respect European rules," Barnier, a French national, told France Info radio, noting 2013 penalties imposed by EU antitrust regulators on Microsoft (MSFT.O) for breaking competition rules. The investigation of BNP operations has turned up billions of dollars of transfers involving the bank that specifically violated U.S. sanctions, one source has said. Bonnafe inherited a bank that emerged relatively unscathed from the economic crisis and sought to raise revenue outside its traditional European markets, just as tougher financial regulation made banking a less profitable business. The New York State Department of Financial Services, headed by Benjamin Lawsky, proposed the suspension of dollar-clearing operations as one condition for not revoking the license, Reuters reported last month. BNP is likely to be suspended from converting foreign currencies to dollars on behalf of clients for some businesses for as long as a year, sources have told Reuters. A source familiar with the matter said on Sunday this would mainly involve oil and gas financing. Two sources said on Sunday the ban would not go into effect for another six months in order to let the bank and clients arrange other plans. One source said the settlement would include about a dozen employees leaving the bank and disciplinary action for others. Shares in BNP have fallen 17 percent since it first said it would make provisions for the fine in mid-February, on concerns the penalties could be big enough to restrict its dividends and drag its capital ratio to below 10 percent - a level seen as key to staying out of the danger zone under tighter post-financial crisis guidelines.
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Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Iran questions nuclear deal deadline as talks 'hit wall'

France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius addresses a news conference with his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra (not pictured) in Algiers June 8, 2014.
(Reuters) - Iran, after talks with senior U.S. officials, questioned whether a July deadline for a nuclear deal with world powers will be met, fueling doubts on the outcome as France spoke out, saying talks on curbing Tehran's uranium enrichment had "hit a wall". Iran's talks with six major powers on curbing its nuclear program in exchange for an end to Western sanctions could be extended for six months if no deal is reached by a July 20 deadline agreed by all parties, a senior Iranian official said. While an extension is possible under the terms of the talks, experts believe both Iran and the international powers may face domestic political pressures to argue for better terms during this extra time period, further complicating negotiations. The Iranian official, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, said it was "too soon to judge" whether more time was needed. "But the good thing is all parties are seriously committed to meet that goal," he said of the July 20 target. "Whether we can do it or not is something else," he told Iranian media in Geneva. A recording of his remarks were reviewed by Reuters. After holding bilateral talks with U.S. officials, Araqchi was quoted as saying that differences remained. "An exchange of views will continue," he told Iran's Fars news agency. "The talks were useful, especially before the next round of talks in Vienna. However, a diversity of opinions still exists." The six powers and Iran will meet again in Vienna for another round of negotiations June 16-20. Araqchi had earlier spoken of a possible half-year extension to the talks. Western and Iranian officials have already said an extension appears increasingly likely. Singling out a big gap in negotiating positions that will be difficult to overcome in less than two months, France's foreign minister said Iran should drop a demand to have thousands of uranium enrichment centrifuges. Instead it should restrict itself to a few hundred of the machines used to increase the concentration of the fissile isotope of the metal - a process that can make a weapon, though Iran denies it wants to do that. Iran - which says its nuclear program is peaceful and mainly aimed at generating electricity - has around 19,000 centrifuges, of which roughly 10,000 are operating, according to the U.N. nuclear agency. Enriched uranium can have both civilian and military uses, depending on the degree of refinement. "We are still hitting a wall on one absolutely fundamental point, which is the number of centrifuges which allow enrichment," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Inter radio. "We say that there can be a few hundred centrifuges, but the Iranians want thousands, so we're not in the same framework." "UNREALISTIC DEMANDS" Reporters in Washington asked State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki about Fabius' comments. She said the focus should be on the actual negotiations taking place behind closed doors, not on what parties to the talks are saying publicly. "I've seen those remarks," she said. "We feel our efforts should be directed towards the negotiations happening behind the scenes on the tough issues and not on public demands." Paris has long held out for strict terms in the negotiations. Based on Psaki's remarks, it appeared that Fabius was not necessarily speaking for the other five powers - the United States, Germany, Britain, China and Russia. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said the priority was not the July 20 deadline, but to achieve a deal to guarantee that Tehran would not obtain a nuclear weapon. Western officials say Iran wants to maintain a uranium enrichment capability far beyond what it currently needs for civilian purposes. Iran says it wants to avoid reliance on foreign suppliers of fuel for planned nuclear reactors. The negotiations ran into difficulty last month with each side accusing the other of making unrealistic demands, raising doubts about prospects for a breakthrough next month. This week's bilateral talks between U.S. and Iranian officials were aimed at breaking the deadlock. An extension should be possible, but U.S. President Barack Obama would need to secure the consent of Congress at a time of fraught relations between his administration and lawmakers. Close U.S. ally Israel, which in the past has threatened to attack Iranian nuclear sites, has made clear its deep scepticism about the chances of a deal that sufficiently denies Iran any nuclear weapons capability. Iran says it is Israel's assumed nuclear arsenal that threatens peace in the region. Iran and the powers included the July 20 deadline to reach a comprehensive agreement in an interim deal agreed in November. The November agreement - under which Iran suspended some nuclear activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief - allowed for a six-month extension, if more time were needed for a settlement. An extension would allow up to half a year more for limited sanctions relief and restraints on Iranian nuclear work. "TOUGH CHOICES" REQUIRED U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the primary U.S. negotiator with Iran, met an Iranian delegation led by Araqchi in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday. "We are at a critical juncture in the talks," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in Washington. "We know we don’t have a lot of time left," she said of the July 20 deadline. "That’s why we’ve said diplomacy will intensify. People need to make tough choices." Araqchi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, used similar language: "There are still gaps," he said. "In order to bring our views closer, the other side must make tough decisions." The French Foreign Ministry said officials from France and Iran would meet on Wednesday to discuss the Vienna negotiations. And Russian officials will have talks with the Iranians in Rome on Wednesday and Thursday, according to Iranian media. German and Chinese officials will also hold talks with Iranian officials ahead of next week's negotiations in Vienna. (Additional reporting by Michelle Moghtader in Dubai, Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Louis Charbonneau in New York; Writing by Louis Charbonneau and Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Giles Elgood Alastair Macdonald and Gunna Dickson)
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