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Monday, December 3, 2012

Amazon, Google and Starbucks Attacked over U.K. Tax Avoidance

The public accounts committee of the House of Commons, the parliamentary spending watchdog, has released a report where it condemns Amazon, Google and Starbucks of “immoral” use of offshore schemes, royalties and complex structures in order to avoid paying tax on profits generated in the U.K. It also criticises HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for being “way too lenient” in the way it negotiates with companies that pay little or no corporation tax. The chair of the committee, Margaret Hodge MP, said that “this is outrageous and an insult to British businesses and individuals who pay their fair share”. Additionally, she said HMRC “should be challenging this but its response so far to these big businesses and their aggressive tax planning has lacked determination”. Starbucks has already announced that it is reviewing its tax approach to Britain with a view to paying more tax internally. Danny Alexander, the Treasury chief secretary, said “I might be able to buy a coffee from Starbucks again soon”.

U.K. and France ‘Deplore’ and ‘Condemn’ New Israeli Settlements

The U.K. and France have summoned Israeli ambassadors to protest Israel’s decision to approve the construction of 3,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a move triggered after the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status to non-member observer state. A Foreign Office spokesman said that the government “deplored” the Israeli decision on the new settlements and that it threatened “the viability of the two state solution”. Later, the Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, said he “called on the Israeli government to reverse them”. In France, a statement from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that “France condemns Israeli settlement activity in all its forms” and that it is “illegal under international law”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swept away the criticisms by saying that “we will carry on building in Jerusalem and in all the places that are on the map of Israel’s strategic interests”.

Greece to Buy Back Bonds from Private Investors

Greece has launched an initiative to buy back €10 billion of its bonds from private investors, a condition that it needs to meet before it can receive the next tranche of its aid package, worth approximately €44 billion, on December 13. The Greek government will offer private investors between 32 and 40 percent of the bond’s face values, with the prices set after investors declare what level they are willing to sell at, a procedure known as a Dutch auction. Those accepting the terms have to sign up by December 7 and will receive six-month bonds from the European Union’s European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) as payment. Greek government bond prices surged on the news of the initiative and shares of Greek banks went up by 6 percent on Monday.

Colombia Bombs FARC Camps, Kills At Least 20 Fighters

At least 20 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) members were killed on Sunday after an attack near the town of Ricaurte in the department of Nariño, near the border with Ecuador. The three FARC camps in the region were located with the help of local residents and were bombed by the Colombian air force. A Colombian army commander said six bodies were recovered from the site. The attack comes in the middle of a weeklong hiatus in peace talks between the government of Colombia and the FARC in Cuba. The FARC’s chief negotiator, Iván Márquez, had said on Friday that both sides would have to work carefully and that “we can’t make mistakes”. This attack could cause a delay in the reopening of talks, originally scheduled for December 5.

Text Messaging 20 Years On

The first text message was sent 20 years ago today, when Vodafone engineer Neil Papworth sent a message saying “Merry Christmas” to a handset on December 3, 1992. The idea of a Short Message Service (SMS) in mobile phones was first put forth by former Finnish civil servant Matti Makkonen during a telecoms conference in 1984. During an interview over SMS with the BBC, Makkonen said that he envisioned the technology as something “very useful for quick business needs” and that he didn’t “consider SMS as a personal achievement, but as the result of a joint effort to collect ideas and write the specifications of the services based on them”. When asked if he could write in “textspeak”, he answered he liked to write “correct language using all 160 characters”.

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