- Samsung Boss Indicted for Bribery, Embezzlement
The heir to the Samsung empire, Lee Jae-Yong and four other top executives were indicted Tuesday on multiple charges including bribery and embezzlement, South Korean prosecutors said in the latest blow to the world’s biggest smartphone maker.
The AFP reported that the presentation of formal charges against Lee Jae-Yong and his colleagues makes them almost certain to face trial, casting new uncertainty over South Korea’s biggest business group as it seeks to recover from a humiliating recall.
As well as charges of bribery, embezzlement and hiding assets overseas, Lee is accused of perjury, said the spokesman for prosecutors probing a corruption and power abuse scandal that has seen President Park Geun-Hye impeached.
Three of the five men — but not Lee, the vice-chairman of flagship subsidiary Samsung Electronics — resigned their positions, the conglomerate said.
The group said it was “dismantling” its Future Strategy Office, the coordinating body that oversees major decisions such as acquisitions or entering new business.
The move, described as a “reform plan”, was announced in a brief five-line statement emailed minutes after the indictment.
Under the scheme, each Samsung unit will be allowed to run more independently, a powerful group body handling government lobbying will be disbanded and decisions over donations will be made more transparent, it said.
But Chung Sun-Sup, the head of chaebol.com, a private watchdog forum on conglomerates, said: “It is yet to be seen whether this is another cosmetic measure aimed to divert public criticism.”
In the past, he told AFP, “Samsung has dissolved group-controlling organisations when it got caught in breach of laws, only to revive them afterwards under different names”.
The Lee family could be “expected to continue wielding power and influence over the whole group”, he added, although professionals might get a greater voice in operating each of its subsidiaries.
The tech giant, whose group revenues are equivalent to a fifth of the country’s GDP, is struggling to recover from the embarrassing recall crisis over its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone last year.
The PR disaster is partly blamed on the group’s top-down management style, in which each Samsung unit simply follows orders from the elite Future Strategy Office without question.
– Merger deal –
The corruption scandal centres on Choi Soon-Sil, who is accused of using her close ties with President Park to force local firms to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations, money which Choi allegedly used for personal gain.
Samsung was the single biggest donor to the foundations. It is also accused of separately giving millions of euros to Choi to bankroll her daughter’s equestrian training in Germany.
The 48-year-old Lee, the scion of Samsung’s founding Lee family, has effectively been at the helm of the conglomerate since his father suffered a heart attack in 2014.
One of the policy favours which Lee allegedly sought from Park was state approval for a controversial merger in 2015 of two Samsung units seen as a key step to ensure a smooth power transfer to him.
The deal was opposed by many shareholders who said it had wilfully undervalued shares of one of the two firms. But it eventually went through after the national pension fund — a major Samsung shareholder — approved it.
A former welfare minister who had overseen the pension fund was charged with abuse of power last month for pressuring it to vote in Samsung’s favour.
Lee has denied all accusations.
Samsung Electronics shares closed up one percent on Tuesday, at 1,922,000 won per share.
Tuesday’s indictments came a day before the special prosecutors — who were appointed in December — were set to hand back the case to state prosecutors after the government rejected a request to extend their inquiry.
It would be up to the state prosecutors to probe other South Korean conglomerates, including Hyundai Motor and retail giant Lotte Group, the special prosecutors’ spokesman said.
During their term they indicted a total of 31 suspects — 17 of them on Tuesday — including an ex-arts minister and former presidential chief of staff.
Oil Prices Rally Amidst Russian Export Ban and Rate Hike Concerns
Oil prices saw an upward trend on Friday as concerns over Russia’s ban on fuel exports potentially tightening global supply.
This development overshadowed apprehensions of further interest rate hikes in the United States that could impact demand.
However, despite this bounce, oil prices were still on course for their first weekly decline in four weeks.
Brent crude oil gained 46 cents, or 0.5% to $93.76 per barrel while the U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) oil surged by 65 cents, a 0.7% rise to $90.28 a barrel.
These gains were driven by growing concerns regarding tight global supply as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies (OPEC+) continued to implement production cuts.
Toshitaka Tazawa, an analyst at Fujitomi Securities Co Ltd, commented on the volatile nature of the market, stating, “Trading remained choppy amid a tug-of-war between supply fears that were reinforced by a Russian ban on fuel exports and worries over slower demand due to tighter monetary policies in the United States and Europe.”
He further noted that investors would closely monitor OPEC+ production cuts and the impact of rising interest rates, predicting that WTI would trade within a range of approximately $90 to $95.
Russia’s abrupt ban on gasoline and diesel exports to countries outside a select group of four ex-Soviet states had an immediate effect as it aimed to stabilize the domestic fuel market. This export restriction prompted a nearly 5% increase in heating oil futures on Thursday.
Tina Teng, an analyst at CMC Markets, explained, “Crude oil bounced off a session low after Russia banned diesel exports, which included gasoline. The action reversed a downside movement in crude markets following the hawkish Fed decision.”
However, she also warned that mounting concerns about a recession in the Eurozone could continue to exert downward pressure on oil prices.
The U.S. Federal Reserve recently maintained its interest rates but adopted a more hawkish stance, projecting a quarter-percentage-point increase to 5.50%-5.75% by the year-end. This decision heightened fears that higher rates might dampen economic growth and reduce fuel demand.
Also, the stronger U.S. dollar, reaching its highest level since early March, made oil and other commodities more expensive for buyers using alternative currencies.
NNPCL’s Crude Commitments Create Hurdles for Dangote’s Oil Operations
The Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) has found itself at the center of a growing challenge faced by the Dangote Petroleum Refinery, one of Africa’s largest industrial projects.
As the refinery gears up for full-scale production, it is grappling with unforeseen hurdles caused by the commitments made by NNPCL in the form of crude oil agreements with other entities.
Dangote Petroleum Refinery, a flagship project of the Dangote Group led by billionaire Aliko Dangote, is on the brink of becoming a game-changer in Nigeria’s energy sector. With a promise to significantly reduce the country’s dependence on imported petroleum products, the refinery holds the potential to bolster the nation’s energy self-sufficiency.
However, recent revelations have shed light on the complexity of the oil industry in Nigeria and how contractual commitments can disrupt even the best-laid plans.
According to Devakumar Edwin, the Executive Director of the Dangote Group, in an interview with S&P Global Commodity Insights, the NNPCL, which normally trades crude oil on behalf of Nigeria, has pledged its crude to other entities.
While Edwin did not disclose the specific recipients of NNPCL’s crude commitments, it was previously announced that the company had entered into a $3 billion crude oil-for-loan deal with the African Export-Import Bank. Under this agreement, NNPCL agreed to allocate future oil production to the bank as repayment for the loan.
This unforeseen twist has left Dangote Petroleum Refinery in a predicament, necessitating the temporary importation of crude oil.
Edwin, however, stated that this importation is only a short-term solution, as the refinery expects to receive crude supply from NNPCL starting in November 2023.
The refinery’s ambitious plans include producing up to 370,000 barrels per day of crude, which will be processed into Automotive Gas Oil (diesel) and jet fuel by October 2023. By November 30, 2023, the plant aims to produce Premium Motor Spirit (petrol), providing a much-needed boost to the domestic fuel market.
While the Dangote Group remains committed to its objectives, the delays caused by NNPCL’s prior commitments have raised concerns among oil marketers.
They believe that the prices of diesel and jet fuel, in particular, will only experience a significant reduction once the refinery begins receiving crude oil supplies from Nigeria rather than importing it.
Despite these temporary setbacks, Edwin reaffirmed the refinery’s readiness to receive crude oil, stating, “Right now, I’m ready to receive crude. We are just waiting for the first vessel. And so, as soon as it comes in, we can start.”
In essence, the shift in the refinery’s original timeline can be attributed to the prior commitments made by NNPCL, causing a momentary delay.
However, it remains a beacon of hope for Nigeria’s energy sector, promising a reliable supply of environmentally-friendly refined products and a substantial influx of foreign exchange into the country.
Devakumar Edwin also underscored that the revenues generated from the refinery’s operations would be reinvested in further developments, reaffirming Aliko Dangote’s unwavering commitment to Nigeria’s economic growth.
As the nation eagerly awaits the commencement of production at the Dangote Petroleum Refinery, it is clear that the complex web of oil industry contracts and commitments has played an unexpected role in shaping the refinery’s journey towards becoming a transformative force in Nigeria’s energy landscape.
Oil Prices Retreat as Markets Await Fed Meeting
Oil prices dipped by almost $1 on Wednesday ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s anticipated interest rate decision.
Investors are grappling with uncertainty surrounding peak rates and the potential impact on energy demand.
Despite a substantial drawdown in U.S. oil inventories and sluggish U.S. shale production indicating a possible tight crude supply for the remainder of 2023, prices tumbled.
Brent crude oil, against which Nigerian oil is priced, slid 88 cents, or 0.9%, to $93.46 a barrel following Tuesday’s peak of $95.96, its highest level since November.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil also fell by 1%, or 97 cents, to $90.23 a barrel after hitting a 10-month high of $93.74 the previous day.
Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA, said, “The oil rally is taking a little break as every trader awaits a pivotal Fed decision that might tilt the scales of whether the U.S. economy has a soft or hard landing.”
He emphasized that the oil market remains “very tight” in the short term.
Investors are closely monitoring central bank interest rate decisions this week, including the Federal Reserve’s announcement, to gauge economic growth and fuel demand. While it’s widely expected that the Fed will maintain interest rates, the focus will be on its projected policy path, which remains uncertain.
U.S. crude oil stockpiles declined significantly, with a 5.25 million-barrel drop last week, exceeding the 2.2 million-barrel decline expected by Reuters analysts.
Goldman Sachs analysts raised their 12-month ahead Brent forecast from $93 a barrel to $100 a barrel, citing lower OPEC supply and higher demand. They believe OPEC can maintain a Brent price range of $80-$105 in 2024.
Russia is considering imposing higher export duties on oil products to address fuel shortages, while U.S. shale oil production is set to reach its lowest point since May 2023. On the demand side, India’s crude oil imports declined for the third consecutive month in August due to maintenance and reduced shipments from Russia.
Exxon Mobil Corp has pledged to increase oil production by nearly 40,000 barrels per day in Nigeria, as part of a new investment initiative in the country, according to a presidential spokesperson.
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