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Credit Suisse, UBS among banks in DOJ Russia-sanctions probe


Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS Group AG are among banks under scrutiny in a US Justice Department probe into whether financial professionals helped Russian oligarchs evade sanctions, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Swiss banks were included in a recent wave of subpoenas sent out by the US government, the people said. The information requests were sent before the crisis that engulfed Credit Suisse and resulted in UBS’s proposed takeover of its rival.

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Subpoenas also went to employees of some major US banks, two people with knowledge of the inquiries, said.

The Justice Department inquiries are focused on identifying which bank employees dealt with sanctioned clients and how those clients were vetted over the past several years, according to one of the people. Those bankers and advisers may then be subject to further investigation to determine if they broke any laws.

Credit Suisse and UBS both declined to comment. UBS fell as much as 7.2 percent and was 5.5 percent lower as of 10:14 a.m. in Zurich on Friday.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine resulted in expanded sanctions, Credit Suisse was well-known for catering to wealthy Russians. At its peak, the bank managed more than $60 billion for Russian clients, who generated between $500 million and $600 million a year in revenue.

At the time it discontinued its business with individual Russian clients last May, Credit Suisse held about $33 billion for them, 50 percent more than UBS, despite the latter’s larger wealth management business.

The probe by US regulators may prompt UBS to further scrutinize its smaller rival’s client list after the emergency takeover. Credit Suisse has seen a number of relationships blow up in recent years, from Bill Hwang at Archegos Capital Management to Lex Greensill at his eponymous finance company and Luckin Coffee founder Lu Zhengyao.

The Justice Department last year launched its KleptoCapture task force to enforce sanctions on wealthy Russians who are political allies of President Vladimir Putin. The US government has since seized a number of yachts, private planes and luxury properties.

Last month, the US moved to seize homes in New York, Florida and the Hamptons owned by sanctioned oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

A number of individuals have also been charged with helping oligarchs hide assets — British businessman Graham Bonham-Carter was arrested in October on charges that he illegally transferred $1 million to maintain US properties for sanctioned billionaire Oleg Deripaska. A former senior Federal Bureau of Investigation agent was also charged with helping Deripaska violate sanctions in January.

Banks can face serious penalties for violating US sanctions. BNP Paribas in 2014 agreed to pay nearly $9 billion after pleading guilty to US charges for processing transactions for sanctioned Sudanese, Iranian and Cuban entities. In 2019, Standard Chartered Bank agreed to pay more than $1 billion to settle a Justice Department probe, in which a former bank employee pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran.

As the Credit Suisse rescue plan emerged over the weekend, UBS expressed general concern about taking on its rival’s potential legal liabilities. While the Swiss government has said it will guarantee up to 9 billion francs ($9.8 billion) in losses UBS might incur from the deal, it indicated that funding is earmarked for the wind down of “difficult-to-assess assets.”

US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco in early March said the Justice Department was responding to the “uncertain geopolitical environment by beefing up its national security division, which enforces sanctions violations.

“Corporate crime and national security are overlapping to a degree never seen before, and the department is retooling to meet that challenge,” Monaco said.

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China’s home-grown, narrow-body C919 completes first commercial passenger flight


China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd entered China’s home-grown narrow-body C919 jet into passenger service on Sunday and completed its first commercial flight, marking a milestone in the country’s effort to become more self-reliant.
The C919 is the product of state-backed Commercial Aviation Corp of China (COMAC) which began developing the jet 15 years ago to rival Airbus SE’s A320neo and Boeing Co’s 737 MAX single-aisle jet families.

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President Xi Jinping has hailed the project as a triumph of Chinese innovation, while on Sunday state media trumpeted the plane as a symbol of industrial prowess and national pride.
“After generations of endeavor, we finally broke the West’s aviation monopoly and rid ourselves of the humiliation of ‘800 million shirts for one Boeing’,” Beijing Daily wrote, referring to the early years of economic reform around 40 years ago when China manufactured mainly low-value goods.
The C919 took off at 10:32 a.m. (0232 GMT) from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport where COMAC and China Eastern Airlines are headquartered, and landed two hours later at Beijing Capital Airport, showed flight tracker app Variflight.
“I’m confident about the plane. The flight was smoother than ex-pected,” one of about 130 passengers told state broadcaster CCTV as he disembarked.
The plane is scheduled to return to Shanghai on Sunday, then make a longer two-way flight to the southwestern city of Chengdu on Monday.
Lv Boyuan, a 21-year-old student and aviation enthusiast, was at Shanghai’s airport on Sunday to fly to Chengdu from where he planned to return on the C919 the following day.
“I’ve been really looking forward to its flight, especially because it’s a new-generation aircraft, unlike Boeing and Airbus equiva-lents which have been around for a number of years now,” said Lv.
The C919 made its first flight in 2017 after years of delays and has undergone numerous test flights since.
State-backed China Eastern Airlines ordered five of the jets in March 2021. It took delivery of the first in December and has said it expects to receive the remainder this year.
In total, COMAC had won 1,035 orders from 32 customers as at 2022-end. A company official has since told media the figure exceeds 1,200.
The planemaker expects annual production to reach 150 C919 jets within five years, domestic media reported in January.
Though assembled in China, the C919 relies heavily on Western components, including engines and avionics, from firms including General Electric Co, Safran SA, and Honeywell International Inc.
Li Hanming, an independent expert on Chinese aviation, said most C919 orders were letters of intent from domestic customers. Its few foreign customers include lessor GE Capital Aviation Services Ltd.
“For the C919, the domestic market is big enough,” Li said.
The international market is questionable given that neither European nor US regulators have certificated the aircraft, said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor of industry publication FlightGlobal.
“Until this happens, key international markets will be closed to the C919,” he said.
The C919’s predecessor, the ARJ21, is a short-haul 90-seat aircraft that entered commercial operation in 2016 and is flown by major Chinese airlines as well as Indonesia’s TransNusa.
The ARJ21’s use in Indonesia indicates the C919’s international future lies mainly in the developing world, Waldron said.
COMAC is also developing a CR929 wide-body jet in collaboration with Russia.

Read more: Airbus signs multi-billion dollar deal with China for order of 300 aircraft

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JPMorgan names Omar Fichtali as new investment banking head in Saudi Arabia: Report


JPMorgan Chase & Co. has appointed Omar El Amine Fichtali as head of investment banking in Saudi Arabia, according to an internal memo seen by Bloomberg News.

The move comes weeks after one of the lender’s top bankers in the kingdom, Fahad al-Deweesh, left to join Citigroup Inc. as competition for banking talent in the region’s biggest economy heats up.

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El Amine Fichtali joined JPMorgan’s London office in 2007 with a focus on technology, media and telecommunications investment banking and has worked in various roles with the Middle East and North Africa investment banking team in Dubai and Riyadh.

He will work closely with Bader Alamoudi, senior country officer for Saudi Arabia, and Khalid Fayez, head of corporate banking for JPMorgan in the Kingdom.

A spokeswoman for the bank confirmed the contents of the memo.

Saudi Arabia is becoming an increasingly important market for global banks as the Kingdom embarks on a plan to diversify its economy away from oil by selling stakes in state-owned companies and investing in new industries.

Even as the global financial community contends with layoffs and lower bonuses, banking jobs remain plentiful in the kingdom and salaries are surging.

Wealth funds such as the Public Investment Fund are also actively recruiting.

JPMorgan is working on Saudi Arabia’s biggest initial public offering of the year so far, the $336 million float of generic drugmaker Jamjoom Pharmaceuticals Factory Co.

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China industrial profits slide as weak demand weighs on economy


Profits at industrial firms in China kept falling in the first four months of the year, underlining cooling demand and deepening factory-gate deflation in the world’s second-largest economy.

Industrial profits fell 20.6 percent in the January-April period from the same time frame in 2022, data published Saturday by the National Bureau of Statistics showed.

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The drop was slower than a decline of 21.4 percent logged in the first quarter.

Profits for the single month of April were up 3.7 percent from a year earlier, according to NBS figures. That compared with March’s decline of 19.2 percent.

“The weak recovery of effective demand has continued to weigh on the capacity utilization rate, which, coupled with the difficulty to bring down costs, means more patience is needed for the rebound in industrial profit,” said Bruce Pang, chief economist for Greater China at Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. “The year-on-year growth may not return to the positive territory until the fourth quarter.”

More policy support and stimulus are needed for a full-year gain in industrial profit, Pang said.

China’s post-Covid recovery is faltering, recent data has shown, with export growth weakening and industrial deflation worsening in April.

Falling profits bode ill for the economy’s outlook, and are set to weigh on already weak sentiment among businesses — thus holding them back from investing.

Industrial enterprises in China have been struggling to rebound from last year’s Covid-induced slump, even though factory activity has picked up somewhat.

Still, demand for goods remains sluggish, with the economic rebound mainly led by consumer spending in services. Foreign purchases of Chinese products are slowing as the US and other developed economies seek to “de-risk” from China.

Deteriorating producer deflation has also undercut factories’ ability to boost prices, hurting profits. The producer price index fell 3.6 percent on year in April, the biggest decline since May 2020.

Foreign firms registered a 16.2 percent drop in profits in the January-April period, compared with a 24.9 percent decline in the first quarter.

Profits at private firms fell 22.5 percent in the first four months, while those at state-owned enterprises slipped 17.9 percent, according to NBS data.

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