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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

EU Fines Banks Over Rate-Rigging Cartel

The European Commission has fined 8 banks a record 1.7 billion euros ($2.3 billion) for forming illegal cartels to rig interest rates. Some were engaged in rigging the interest rates of products that are supposed to reflect the cost of interbank lending in euros, others, of those based on the Japanese yen. Some were involved in both markets and more than one cartel. For years, the banks had been manipulating interest rates that affect hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts, from mortgages to credit card bills.

Barclays and UBS stood to face the largest fines, but avoided paying anything by revealing the existence of the cartel and assisting in the investigation. The banks that have been fined are Deutsche Bank, RBS, JPMorgan, Citigroup, RP Martin and Societe Generale. EU antitrust regulators have vowed to keep investigating.

Truck of Radioactive Material Stolen in Mexico

A cargo truck hauling dangerous radioactive material from used medical equipment was stolen from a gas station outside of Mexico City on Monday. While the container is heavily sealed in lead and designed to be difficult to break, the amount of radioactive material could do serious damage if it is opened – direct exposure would result in death within a few minutes.

Mexican authorities alerted the International Atomic Energy Agency and are currently searching for the stolen truck. It’s not clear whether the thieves knew what they were stealing or, if they did, what their motives were. Because the cobalt-60 was medical-grade material headed to a disposal site, it would have already decayed to a point that would make it useless for a weapon.

Hezbollah Military Leader Assassinated

Senior commander Hassane al-Laqees, a member of the inner circle of Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah,  was assassinated in front of his home near Beirut, shot five times in the head and neck at close range with silencer-equipped pistols. Two previously unheard-of groups said they carried out the attack, but their claims are unconfirmed. Hezbollah immediately blamed Israel, which denied involvement and pointed the finger at Sunni militants. Moreover, the assassination comes just one day after Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut. It could also have been retaliation for supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war – both al-Qaeda-linked militants and Syrian rebels have threatened attacks against Hezbollah if it does not withdraw from Syria.

Argentine Police Strike Resolved

At least two people were killed and more than 60 injured during a spate of looting prompted by a police strike in Cordoba, Argentina’s second-largest city. Police abandoned their posts Tuesday evening to demand that their salaries be raised to 13,000 pesos a month ($2,100). In the immediate aftermath, local gangs broke into stores, robbers attacked people in the streets and vigilantes began arming themselves to protect their neighborhoods. Banks and schools were closed.

The strike may have been in response to Governor Jose Manuel de la Sota’s decision to close 140 brothels, which provide income to corrupt officers. The violence has subsided now that the government acceded to police demands.

Thousands of Eritreans Abducted Each Year

A new study says Eritrean and Sudanese security officers are colluding with gangs to kidnap victims in Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea and take them to the Sinai, where they are sold to Bedouin groups there or held for ransom.  Most of those targeted are Eritrean refugees  - up to 30,000 Eritreans have been abducted since 2007 and at least $600 million has been extorted from their families. Despite the government’s denials, given the restricted movement within Eritrea, this trafficking would have been impossible without the direct involvement of officials in Eritrea’s Border Surveillance Unit.

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