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Thursday, February 19, 2009

France sends forces to Guadeloupe

Posted by AccGURU

France has sent hundreds of police reinforcements to the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, as month-long strikes over declining economic conditions have spilled over into violence.

Michele Alliot-Marie, the French interior minister, said 280 police reinforcements would be sent to the island, after holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday.

The move comes after Jacques Bino, a 50-year-old union activist, was shot dead after driving his car near a roadblock manned by armed youths in Pointe-a-Pitre, the island's largest town, officials said.

Three policemen were targeted by gunmen while attempting to reach Bino and secure the area, Hubert Vernet, a government official, told the Reuters news agency.

Vernet stressed that the police officers were in no way responsible for Bino's death.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, said he would meet with elected officials from the island on Thursday, to "address the anxiety, worries and also a certain form of despair from our compatriots".

Sebastian Walker, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Pointe-a-Pitre, said: "The protesters say they have been ignored by the French government for many years.

"Unemployment here is the third highest in the European Union. Away from the luxury hotels and resorts there is a severe economic situation that has angered a lot of people."

'Spiralling' violence

Union leaders have said that the situation in Guadeloupe is spiralling out of control, and there are fears that the unrest could spread to mainland France.

Bino is the first victim of the violence on the island which has been crippled by strikes that began on January 20 over low pay and the high price of basic goods.

Earlier in the week, protesters set buildings and cars on fire, looted shops, smashed storefront windows and clashed with police in Point-a-Pitre and at least two other towns.

Thousands of tourists have also fled the island and neighbouring Martinique.

Strikers' are demanding a raise of $250 a month for low-wage workers who now make about $1,130 a month.

On Thursday, Francois Fillon, the French prime minister, said the government would make a new wage offer to strikers.

"Mediators have come up with a proposal which I am going to assess and which will be submitted to employers and the unions," he told French radio RTL.

"This allows us to get very close to the quantified financial goals of the workers."

Underlying much of the unrest in Guadeloupe and Martinique is anger within the local Afro-Caribbean community - many of whom are descendants of slaves brought to the island by France - that the vast majority of wealth and land remain in the hands of colonist descendants.


Stanford International Bank

Posted by AccGURU

Auditor asks: Stanford who?
February 20, 2009 - 7:15AM


C.A.S. Hewlett & Co, the small Antiguan firm that Texas billionaire
Allen Stanford identified as the auditors of his offshore bank, said on
Thursday it had no information about ties to the tycoon accused of

St. John's-based Hewlett has been identified by the U.S. Securities and
Exchange Commission (SEC) as the auditors of Stanford's $US8 billion
($12 billion) offshore bank, but executives there provided little
indication they even knew who Stanford was.

The current manager, Eugene Perry, at C.A.S. Hewlett in the Antiguan
capital, said Thursday the firm's former chief executive, Charlesworth
"Shelley" Hewlett, is the only person with possible knowledge of a
relationship to Stanford.

But getting any information from Shelley Hewitt is not likely. He died
January 1 at age 73.

Perry said he never met Stanford in his 10 years working at the firm. He
spoke with a Reuters reporter in the late Hewlett's personal office and
telephoned a woman he identified as the company's principal.

"We are not privy to any information about any relationship with
Stanford," said the woman, who would only identify herself as Celia.
Asked if she was aware of any files at the firm associated with
Stanford, she said she was not.

Hewlett's daughter, named Celia, took over responsibility for the
accounting firm from London after her father died. It couldn't be
determined if the Celia interviewed by telephone was the late Hewlett's

On Tuesday, the SEC accused Stanford, a brash, 58-year-old financier and
sports entrepreneur, of operating an $US8 billion fraud centered on the
sale of high-yielding certificates of deposit offered by Stanford
International Bank Ltd (SIB), his Antiguan affiliate.

The interest in Stanford has extended across the Atlantic.

Britain's Serious Fraud Office said Thursday it was monitoring a
possible link between the accounting firm and Stanford.

"It's a situation where there is the possibility there may be a UK link,
and so we are monitoring the situation," a spokesman for the SFO said.

"It's not the case that we have launched investigators at it. We are
making contact and liaising with other authorities," the spokesman

C.A.S. Hewlett has offices at several London addresses, but the phone
numbers were either disconnected, or rang unanswered.

Two people with neighboring businesses in Enfield, a residential suburb
north of London, told Reuters that C.A.S. Hewlett had had a small office
in the building on Southbury Road, but that the employees left about
four years ago.

Anybody home?

The SEC said in its court complaint that it had tried several times to
contact C.A.S. Hewlett during its investigation, but "no one ever
answered the phone."

SIB'S midyear report, released in June, identified C.A.S. Hewlett as its
auditors. The SEC also listed the firm as Stanford's auditor.

But the 10 workers in the Hewlett office in a quiet, largely residential
neighborhood in the capital, seemed an unlikely operation to manage
books for an $US8 billion enterprise.

During two visits over two days by Reuters reporters, no one staffed a
reception desk in the aquamarine building. On one visit to the reception
area that lasted nearly two hours, there was no senior manager in the
building. The occasional sound of reggae music wafted from inside the

C.A.S. Hewlett is listed on the British Commonwealth's website as a
"financial services partner" in Antigua with an offshore client
portfolio that includes banks, insurance companies and other financial
institutions and intermediaries.

Charlesworth Hewlett was born in 1936, according to the website, and
qualified as an accountant in 1970 after attending South West London
College. He also is said to have served in the Britain's Royal Air Force
and earned a medal for active service in Cyprus.