Business

Banker helped gang launder £16m for cybercriminals

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Using their man on the inside at Barclays, the gang set up around 400 bank accounts over a three-year period, according to the UK’s National Crime Agency.

They shuffled stolen funds through these accounts to disguise the source of the money before transferring it back to cybercriminals in Eastern Europe.

Nilesh Sheth, 53, who was then a personal banking manager at Barclays, was “instrumental” in opening the “mule accounts”, the NCA said.

While under surveillance by the agency, the gang was seen meeting with Sheth at the bank and in public places including restaurants and car parks.

The money laundering operation was run by Iurie Mereacre, a 37-year-old Moldovan national, from his home in Woodford Green, northeast London.

He was assisted by associates, brothers Iurie Bivol, 36, and Serghei Bivol, 31, and Ryingota Gincota, 28, also of Woodford Green.

Sheth was spotted meeting the gang in his car. Pic: NCA
Image:Sheth was spotted meeting the gang in his car. Pic: NCA

Mike Hulett, head of Operations at the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit, said: “Criminals rely heavily on money launderers like Mereacre and his associates in order to access their profits.”

When the NCA had enough evidence to make the arrests in November 2016, they found multiple mobile phones both at Sheth’s house in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, and Mereacre’s house in Woodford Green.

The phones had been used to communicate with Mereacre and contained messages organising meetings and payment.

More than £16,000 in cash was also recovered at Sheth’s house.

Mereacre, Sheth and both Bivol brothers pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy at Old Bailey in June.

Gincota decided to go to trial, but instead pleaded guilty to fraud offences on Wednesday.

Rose-Marie Franton, from the CPS International Justice and Organised Crime Division, said: “These men deliberately and persistently set about transferring millions of pounds of stolen money out of the UK to Eastern Europe.

“The evidence we gathered showed how Nilesh Sheth abused his position as a bank employee for personal gain by facilitating the laundering the criminal proceeds of an organised crime group both within the UK and across borders.”

A Barclays spokesperson said: “This is a rare occasion where an individual deliberately exploited our systems. We have worked with and supported the NCA with this investigation and welcome the outcome of proceedings.

“Barclays will always support law enforcement in identifying criminal activity and bringing prosecutions.”

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Amazon glasses ‘to use bones instead of headphones’

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The internet tech giant has a team currently developing the product, which could hit the shelves as soon as the end of the year, the Financial Times reports.

The glasses would reportedly look like a regular pair of reading spectacles – but they would allow the wearer to address virtual assistant Alexa and hear her replies via bone-conduction technology.

This means that audio vibrations would travel directly to the wearer’s inner ear via their jaw and cheekbones, cutting out the need for earphones.

An Amazon Echo device
Image:Amazon Echo devices give users access to a virtual assistant named Alexa

The technology has been in use to help those with hearing loss for decades, but it is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to headphones in the music and audio industries.

According to the Financial Times, the glasses would also be able to connect wirelessly to a user’s smartphone.

They are not expected to offer features such as an on-board camera, so should avoid issues like privacy concerns and poor battery life that plagued rival Google’s offering, Google Glass.

It is thought the glasses will be launched alongside updates to Amazon’s existing Echo devices as well as a new smart home security system.

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Kingfisher profits fall as chain revamps

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Screwfix storeImage copyrightScrewfix

Half-year profits at Kingfisher, the owner of B&Q and Screwfix, have fallen 5.9% to £402m amid what the company describes as “disruption”.

The company, whose main operations are in the UK and France, is working its way through a five-year plan, which it began 18 months ago.

This includes streamlining the products it offers across its outlets. This has meant offering products it planned to phase out at discounted prices.

Sales across the firm were down 1.3%.

Kingfisher’s revamp has included widespread changes to its IT system as well as closing some B&Q stores.

The company says it will deliver a £500m “sustainable” annual profit uplift by the end of 2021, which will cost £800m, but that until it has finished streamlining the business, it will not be able to expand by much.

The plan also includes buying back shares from its investors, a move that typically supports the share price.

It announced it would be looking to buy £60m worth of shares in the next three months.

The company said it was “cautious” on the outlook for the second half of the year.

No break up

Neil Wilson, analyst at ETX Capital, said: “Kingfisher results for the first half were as expected.

“It does look like it is making solid progress on the transformation strategy, with an earlier rollout of the unified IT platform potentially able to produce cost savings sooner than planned.”

Some analysts have suggested the company may work better broken up. Screwfix is growing faster than the rest and France’s Castorama is underperforming.

But Kingfisher’s chief executive, Veronique Laury, said this was “not something we would consider at all”.

Kingfisher is the largest DIY chain in Europe.

It employs 25,000 people in the UK and Ireland and 20,000 in France.

It also trades in Poland, Russia, Turkey and Spain and is starting businesses in Romania, Portugal and Germany.

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FTSE 100 dips but Kingfisher climbs

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City tradersImage copyrightGetty Images

Shares in retail group Kingfisher outperformed the market in early trading, despite the firm’s reporting of a 5.9% fall in half-year profits.

The B&Q and Screwfix owner was the FTSE 100’s biggest riser, adding 3.5%.

Overall, the benchmark index was down 6.05 points or 0.08% at 7,269.20.

Drinks maker Diageo was the biggest faller, shedding 1.1% after warning that its revenues could be hit by a ban on selling alcohol along national and state highways in India.

On the currency markets, the pound was up 0.16% against the dollar at $1.3533, but it was flat against the euro at 1.1269 euros.

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Zara owner profits jump despite strong euro

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Woman shopping at ZaraImage copyrightMARC ALEX
Image caption Inditex owns Zara, along with brands such as Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti and Bershka

The owner of Zara continued to see strong demand for its fast fashion in the first half of 2017, with both sales and profits up.

Inditex, which also owns brands such as Pull&Bear and Bershka, had a net income of 1.4bn euros (£1.2bn) in the six months to 31 July – 9% higher than the previous year.

Net sales rose 11.5% to 11.7bn euros.

The Spanish firm linked the growth to making a “quick transition” to its autumn-winter range in August.

However, it said the strong appreciation of the euro against most major currencies since June had hit its profit margins.

Inditex, which operates in 93 markets, said like-for-like sales had been positive across all regions.

But like-for like growth did slow slightly to 6%, versus 11% in the same period last year.

The firm said it had opened new stores in 35 markets, taking its total store count to 7,405 by the end of the period.

It also paid shareholders 1.1bn euros, or 34 cents a share, in dividends in May and will pay 34 cents a share in November.

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UK ‘to offer €20bn for Brexit divorce bill’

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According to the Financial Times, Theresa May will include the offer in her much-anticipated Brexit speech on Friday in Florence.

Mrs May’s top EU adviser Oliver Robbins told his counterparts in EU capitals, including Berlin, that the offer would be included in the Prime Minister’s address, the report says.

Downing Street has dismissed it as “pure speculation about a speech that has not yet been given”.

Brexit

Video:Brexit will cost how much?!

The so-called Brexit bill has emerged as a main stumbling block in divorce talks with Brussels, and Mrs May might look to break the deadlock with a financial offer.

No figure so far has been floated by the British Government or the EU. If confirmed, the €20bn figure might be significantly lower than what Brussels reportedly wants – around €60bn (£53bn)

The Government has said the time of big sums of cash going to the EU ends with Brexit, but has acknowledged in principle that it will make a payment.

Downing Street has been tight-lipped about Mrs May’s speech, seen as the most important intervention on Brexit since her Lancaster House address in January.

It comes amid reports of a split in the Cabinet over the Brexit strategy, after Boris Johnson wrote an explosive 4,000-word newspaper article setting out his own vision for the divorce.

Mr Johnson’s blueprint calls for a clean-break Brexit that envisages no payments to gain access to the European single market.

Boris Johnson called the sums quoted for the UK to leave the EU 'extortionate'

Video:Johnson: EU can ‘go whistle’ over exit bill

The intervention prompted calls for Mrs May to sack the Foreign Secretary over the breakdown in Cabinet discipline, as well as reports Mr Johnson might be ready to resign if his vision is not heeded in Mrs May’s speech.

Both sides have sought to play down the row.

Mr Johnson has dismissed speculation he might resign this weekend, telling the Guardian newspaper that he was “mystified” by the suggestion.

“It feels to me like an attempt to keep the great snore-athon story about my article running. I think that is what is going on,” he was quoted as saying.

“I am confident she will set out an exciting and positive vision for Brexit and it will be a speech around which everyone can unite.”

Mrs May has said the Foreign Secretary is doing “good work” and will stay on in the Cabinet.

The PM will discuss details of her speech at a Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

In a show of unity, Mr Johnson is expected to travel to Italy for the speech.

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London venue is UK’s first to use digital-only ticketing

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Islington Assembly Hall has become the first venue in the UK to introduce digital-only ticketing.

The North London venue will now only sell tickets through ticketing app DICE in a bid to cut out touts.

The app sells tickets which have to be shown on the phone of the person who paid for them.

It’s hoped the move will help limit the amount of tickets resold through secondary agents or sold by touts outside the venue.

fall out boy

Image caption Plenty of big names, including Fall Out Boy (pictured), have played at the venue

Islington Assembly Hall’s business manager Lucinda Brown said: “We’re so excited to be working with DICE and to be leading the way as a music venue offering mobile-first tickets.

“Through this partnership, we are making a stand against touts and allowing fans to have more control.”

Upcoming gigs at the 800-capacity venue include Rae Morris, Jake Isaac and Kele Okereke.

The move follows other efforts by big names and the music industry as a whole to limit secondary ticketing.

https://twitter.com/Islington_AH/status/910173158874939393

Ed Sheeran recently announced strict entry rules for his 2018 tour.

The singer and his team, who have previously said they are “vehemently opposed” to ticket re-sales, have explained how fans will need four forms of ID when they arrive at the venue.

ed sheeran

“Ed and his team have a strict stance against anyone using secondary ticketing websites for profit,” says a statement from Ed’s record label, Atlantic Records.

“On this tour, any tickets that are resold will not be valid unless they are bought and sold through Ed’s official resale partner, Twickets, which allows fan to fan sales at face value plus booking fee only.

“This means no profit to touts and no-one getting ripped off.”

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Public sector pay ‘approaching historic low’

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The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says official statistics show the case for raising caps on pay in the public sector is gathering speed.

The Government recently indicated that ministers would be able to take a more flexible approach to pay limits and announced a wage rise for police and prison officers, but this has yet to trickle through to areas including teaching and the health service.

The IFS report points out that the gap in pay between the public and private sectors has now returned to pre-2007 levels.

The think tank, which is seen as politically independent, says keeping the 1% limit on pay rises in place is likely to have an impact on the quality of staff working in UK schools and hospitals.

Nurses protest against public sector pay cap
Image:Protests against the public sector pay cap have been held in recent months

Public sector pay has been a key issue in the political debate in recent months and Theresa May is under increasing pressure to take action to relax the wage limits as price inflation in the UK approaches 3%.

When the financial crisis hit 10 years ago wages in the private sector took an immediate dive, and dropped to well below that of their public sector counterparts.

The 1% annual cap on wage rises imposed by the coalition government in 2010 helped to correct the imbalance, but the IFS argues that continuing the measure could result in the scales tipping the other way.

Average real gross weekly earnings in the public and private sectors
Image:Average real gross weekly earnings in the public and private sectors

“The Government is considering lifting the public sector pay cap for at least some workers,” says IFS senior research economist Johnathan Cribb.

“If it decides to maintain the 1% cap, we should expect increasing difficulties in recruiting, retaining and motivating high quality public sector staff, reducing the quality and quantity of public services.”

But the report is also careful to point out that any decision to lift the cap would not come for free, as it would be likely to cost the UK an extra £9bn by 2020 alone.

“Increasing pay for these workers implies substantial extra costs to public sector employers,” says Mr Cribb.

“The Treasury could provide extra funds for this by raising taxes, cutting other spending or borrowing more.

“Asking the NHS, for example, to fund higher pay increases from within existing budgets would be very challenging.”

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Tata Steel takes first step towards merger

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An announcement on the move made on Wednesday morning said Thyssenkrupp and Tata’s European operations would join forces in a 50/50 venture which could see some job losses further down the line in the UK.

Tata Steel, which is Britain’s biggest steel producer, hit the headlines last year when it put its entire UK operations up for sale amid a deteriorating industry environment.

But the Indian-owned firm paused its plans after pledges of Government support and an agreement to restructure its hefty pension scheme.

The joint venture with Thyssenkrupp will result in a total workforce across Europe of around 48,000 employees.

It is expected the deal could be closed by the end of next year.

The announcement was met with cautious optimism by steel unions in the UK but they said they would be seeking commitments over job protections going forward.

Tata Steel and Thyssenkrupp said they would begin a review of their joint operations in 2020, provided the merger is officially agreed.

This could lead to as many as 4,000 job losses, with the burden expected to be equally shared between Thyssenkrupp’s German workforce and Tata’s European employees.

But Thyssenkrupp’s chief executive, Heinrich Hiesinger, was careful to point out that both companies would have had to make cuts regardless of the merger deal.

“We will not be putting any measures into effect in the joint venture that we would not have had to adopt on our own,” he said.

“On the contrary: by combining our steel activities, the burdens for each partner are lower than they would have been on a stand-alone basis.”

Business Secretary Greg Clark lauded the announcement as an “important step” in safeguarding the future of the steel industry in the UK.

“The Government has been working hard with the unions to secure a sustainable future for Tata Steel in the UK, its 4,000 employees at the Port Talbot site and its supply chain,” he said.

“Today’s agreement between Tata Steel and Thyssenkrupp is an important next step in establishing their shared ambition for Port Talbot as a world-class steel manufacturer, with a focus on quality, technology and innovation.”

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International visits to US fall

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A group of tourists take and pose for photographs as they pass near the Statue of LibertyImage copyrightGetty Images
Image caption In the first three months of 2017, about 15.8 million people visited the US from foreign countries, down about 4% year-on-year

The number of international visitors to the US slipped 4% in the first three months of 2017, with the Middle East showing some of the sharpest declines.

The drop comes after warnings from the travel industry about the negative impact of increased travel restrictions from the Trump administration.

The US announced new visa restrictions for six mainly Muslim countries and banned laptops on some flights earlier this year.

It reversed the laptop policy in July.

The US Commerce Department on Thursday defended the administration’s record, pointing to a rise in travel-related spending, which increased 3% year-on-year in the first half of 2017.

“This proves that international travellers know that the safety enhancements introduced by the Trump administration are far more important than the processing inconveniences from them,” said Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Trump slump?

The number of international visitors to the US has risen steadily from 2009, peaking in 2015 at 77.5 million, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office.

Visits fell 2.4% in 2016, with Canada and Mexico accounting for just over half of the travellers.

In the first three months of 2017, about 15.8 million people visited the US from foreign countries, down about 4% year-on-year, the office reported.

The number of visitors from Canada increased 5% year-on-year to 4.6 million during the quarter.

But visits from the next four major tourist markets – Mexico, the UK, Japan and Germany – were down in the January through March period.

The number of travellers from Mexico fell by 7.1% to 3.9 million.

UK visits slid 15.5% to about 774,800 and the number of Japanese travellers slipped 2.1% to 884,900.

The number of German visitors shrank almost 12% to about 360,000.

Total European visitor numbers fell by 10% to 2.6 million.

The number of visitors from the Middle East plunged 25% year-on-year to 204,000.

Trump slump? US tourism industry fears downturn

What has President Trump said about your country?

Analysts had warned that Trump administration policies were hurting travel, while surveys suggest opinions of the US have deteriorated.

The US was the only country among major destinations where long-haul bookings declined in the first half of the year, ForwardKeys reported in June.

Emirates had cut back its routes to the US, citing fewer passengers under the new rules.

But Emirates president Tim Clark said this month the airline might restore some of the routes it cut in in the next six to nine months.

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