China Cracks $64 Billion Underground Bank
China said it cracked the nation’s biggest “underground bank,” which handled 410 billion yuan ($64 billion) of illegal foreign-exchange transactions, as the authorities try to combat corruption and rein in capital outflows that have hit records this year.
More than 370 people have been arrested or face lawsuits or other punishment in the case centered in eastern Zhejiang province, the official People’s Daily reported on Friday, citing police officials. The case brought the total for underground banking and money-laundering activities to 800 billion yuan since April, the newspaper said.
The probe began in September last year and the police took almost a year to sort through more than 1.3 million suspicious transactions, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported separately. The authorities froze more than 3,000 bank accounts, Xinhua said.
The case highlights the nation’s struggle to control capital outflows that have helped to send real-estate prices soaring from Vancouver to Sydney — even when Chinese citizens are officially limited to converting $50,000 of yuan per year. Some people may be moving the proceeds of corruption, while others may be concerned about the outlook for the economy and the potential for the yuan to weaken.
“The government wants to stem outflows and stabilize the yuan’s exchange rate, but the outflows cannot be stopped unless people change their expectation on yuan depreciation,” said Xi Junyang, a finance professor at Shanghai University of Finance & Economics. Besides illegal banking operations, “a lot of money is leaving the country by legal means,” Xi said.
China’s capital outflows may have climbed to a record $194 billion in September before cooling to $62 billion in October, according to a Bloomberg gauge which also takes into account decisions by exporters and direct investment recipients to hold funds in dollars.
The tactics used by Chinese citizens to defeat the controls include so-called smurfing, where large sums are moved by breaking them down into a series of smaller transfers using the bank accounts and foreign-exchange quotas of a range of individuals.
In the Zhejiang case, a suspect identified as Zhao Mouyi used a different method, setting up more than 10 companies in Hong Kong from 2013 and transferring more than 100 billion yuan through so-called non-resident accounts, which are used by offshore companies in China when they are transferring money abroad, according to the newspaper’s report.
Taking advantage of a “loophole” relating to non-resident accounts — which has since been filled by banks — Zhao circumvented the capital controls by directly transferring yuan overseas and then exchanged the money into foreign currencies at banks including HSBC Holdings Plc in Hong Kong, the People’s Daily said. Zhao then allegedly transferred it to his clients’ accounts, the report said, citing the local police.
HSBC declined to comment on the report. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority also declined to comment on the specifics of the case, while saying that banks in the city have “stepped up their internal controls to report suspicious transactions.”
- Methods of bypassing China’s currency controls include:
- making transfers using Hong Kong money changers
- carrying checks from underground banks across the border to Hong Kong
- smuggling cash through customs
- making payments abroad using credit or debit cards and then returning merchandise for cash
- getting an overseas mortgage based on savings held within China
The underground banking crackdown is “an attempt to reduce the capital outflow pressure,” said Hou Wei, a banking analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in Hong Kong. The government is “determined and very serious” about defending its currency reserves and the exchange rate, the analyst said.
In another case highlighted by the People’s Daily on Friday, an investigation of an underground bank in Fujian this year uncovered a network spanning Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia and Saudi Arabia — and a senior executive at a state-owned enterprise who allegedly tried to move 18 million yuan abroad, the newspaper said.
The authorities have made a series of moves to control legal and illegal capital flows, including capping withdrawals at overseas automated teller machines.
The People’s Bank of China has given verbal guidance to onshore lenders to stop offering cross-border financing to offshore banks, people familiar with the matter said this week. The monetary authority has also told overseas banks to halt onshore bond repurchases, two of the people said.
Increased Cost of Customs Duty, Forex Crisis Affects Used Vehicles Imports Volume in Nigeria
Used Vehicles auto dealers in Nigeria have expressed concern over the decline of Tokunbo car imports volume in 2022.
According to the dealers, Tokunbo car imports dropped by 47% as a result of the increased cost of customs duty and the forex crisis.
These auto dealers disclosed that the increased cost of duty on used vehicles by Nigerian customs has affected their car sales. They lamented that the import duties have also affected the number of cars they import into the country which has drastically reduced.
It would be recalled that in April 2022, the Nigerian customs announced that it would update the importation of car edition from 2017 to 2021 in compliance with the ECOWAS Common External Tariff (CET) to the 2022-2026 version in which used cars coming into Nigeria are expected to pay a 20% tariff rate and a NAC levy of 15 percent.
The NAC levy, coupled with the Value Added Tax (VAT) of 7.5 percent, results in an almost 50 percent levy that is now paid on the importation of used vehicles in Nigeria.
Speaking on the decline of the importation of used vehicles in Nigeria, regional manager of Auto Auction Mall Oluwafemi Amisu said that the increase in import duties has 100 percent played an important role in the reduction of importation of used cars into Nigeria.
He also attributed the benchmark of car models to an increase in shipping cost leading to an increase in the price of the vehicles.
Shipping companies that formerly used 2,300 vehicle capacity vessels to ship into the country have visibly downsized to 1,000 or 1,500 capacity vessels.
“Majority of transactions made by Nigerians importing vehicles are within the 08-010 model range, which typically cost N400, 000 –N600, 000 to clear. However, since 2014 has been chosen as the benchmark, clearing costs have increased to between N1 million and N1.7 million,” he added.
Also, another challenge that has been attributed to the decline of importation of used vehicles in Nigeria is the Forex crisis which auto dealers lament has affected the purchasing power of customers. They added that people now prefer to buy Nigerian used cars instead of foreign used cars, even so, Nigerian used cars have also become very expensive.
Findings by Investors King reveal that the duty rate is majorly the reason for the drop in the importation of used vehicles, as most of the vehicles coming into Nigeria are below 2013, which mandates that any auto dealer bringing any car lower than that into Nigeria will pay a duty of 2013. Due to this, most of the vehicles are reportedly passing through Cotonou Port.
Ajay Banga Nominated as Sole Candidate for World Bank Presidency
The World Bank Group’s Board of Executive Directors has announced that Ajay Banga, a United States national, is the only nominee for the position of the next president of the bank.
This news follows US President Joe Biden’s nomination of Banga to lead the World Bank in February, citing his suitability for the role at “this critical moment in history.”
Banga, who was born in India and is a naturalized US citizen, is currently serving as vice chairman at General Atlantic and previously worked as the chief executive of Mastercard Inc. If confirmed, he would become the first-ever Indian-American to head either of the two top international financial institutions: the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors will now conduct a formal interview with Banga in Washington D.C., with the expectation of concluding the presidential selection in due course. The current president of the World Bank, David Malpass, is set to step down in June, nearly a year before his term is scheduled to expire, and Banga is expected to replace him.
Banga’s nomination comes at a time of increasing global economic uncertainty, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating pre-existing inequalities and challenging the resilience of many countries’ financial systems. As such, the incoming World Bank president will face significant pressure to navigate the institution through these difficult times, while also addressing concerns around climate action and the role of the World Bank in promoting sustainable development.
While Banga’s nomination as the sole candidate for the position of World Bank president may come as a surprise to some, it also reflects the United States’ historical dominance in the governance of international financial institutions. However, it remains to be seen how Banga will use his position to shape the future direction of the World Bank and address the complex challenges facing the global economy.
Unilever Nigeria to Focus on Higher Growth Opportunities by Exiting Home Care and Skin Cleansing Markets
Unilever Nigeria Plc, one of the leading Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies, has announced its decision to exit the home care and skin cleansing markets.
The company disclosed that the decision would only affect three of its brands – OMO, Sunlight, and Lux. According to Unilever Nigeria, the move is aimed at accelerating the growth of the organisation and sustaining profitability.
The restructuring of Unilever Nigeria’s business model is in response to the tough business environment in Nigeria, where many organisations and individuals have found it difficult to access cash due to the Naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Unilever Nigeria’s Managing Director, Mr Carl Cruz, noted that the offloading of the home care and skin cleansing portfolios would enable the company to “concentrate on higher growth opportunities.”
Unilever Nigeria has a strong competition in the business categories it is exiting. However, the company’s products are also market leaders in the sector. Mr Cruz added that the company was repurposing its portfolio by gradually exiting two categories, home care and skin cleansing, affecting only three brands (OMO, Sunlight, and Lux).
This would allow Unilever Nigeria to drive the rest of its brand portfolio for growth into the future and strengthen business operations with measures to digitize and simplify processes.
Unilever Nigeria is a truly Nigerian business and the oldest serving manufacturer in the country. The company’s decision to exit the home care and skin cleansing markets is in line with its commitment to adapt to changing market circumstances and reposition itself to better meet the needs of its consumers, shareholders, and employees.
Mr Cruz said, “By making these changes, we will unleash the sustained and profitable growth we need to be here for the next 100 years as well.”
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