Saturday, February 11, 2017

Record revenues for Renault; Brazil's corruption scam spreads across Latin America; North Korea dares US with missile tests

1 Record revenues for Renault (BBC) French carmaker Renault has reported record annual revenues after a revamp of its range boosted sales. Revenues rose 13.1% to 51.2bn euros (£43.6bn) last year, slightly ahead of expectations, while net income jumped by nearly 20% to 3.54bn euros.

Earlier this week, Renault said it had sold 3.2 million vehicles last year, a 13.4% rise on 2015, with market share rising in all regions. The firm's sales have now overtaken French rival Peugeot Citroen. Renault's financial director Clotilde Delbos said 2016 had been "a very good year" for the carmaker, and the company had hit all of its targets.

Renault said it expected the global car market to grow by between 1.5% and 2% next year, with sales in Europe and France up 2%. It forecasts the markets in Brazil and Russia will be "stable", but expects 5% growth in China and the Indian market to expand by 8%.

Last month, French authorities said they would investigate Renault over suspected "cheating" in diesel emissions tests. The Paris prosecutors office is to conduct a probe into "cheating on key parts" of vehicles and into the quality of the tests.

2 Brazil’s corruption scam spread across Latin America (Emma Graham-Harrison in The Guardian) The fallout from a massive bribery scandal that helped to bring down a Brazilian president is spreading across Latin America, threatening to engulf leaders from Panama to Peru.

The workings of a secret “bribery department” at the Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht that suborned government officials around the world for years are being exposed by investigators. Meticulous schemes of graft laid out by witnesses, in plea deals and in leaked and seized documents show how the company funnelled $800m of payouts to politicians and parties in Latin America alone.

As prosecutors chase the trail of that cash, it has led them towards some of the region’s most prominent figures. Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, was accused in leaked testimony last year of taking campaign funds from Odebrecht, and the Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, was implicated by a man who has himself been arrested in connection with the scandal. Both deny wrongdoing.

Perhaps the most surprising accusations came this week, when authorities implicated two men who have based their political careers on a reputation for integrity in countries plagued by graft. Peru sent out an Interpol arrest warrant for its former president Alejandro Toledo, on charges of taking some $20m in bribes. And Colombia’s chief prosecutor has said the country’s Nobel peace prize-winning president Juan Manuel Santos may have taken money for his re-election campaign. Both men have strongly denied the charges.

Authorities who offered a $30,000 reward for Toledo’s capture say he took the money in return for smoothing Odebrecht’s path to a lucrative contract for a road connecting Brazil to Peru’s Pacific coast. They have sought particular help from the US, where Toledo is a visiting scholar at Stanford University, and from Israel. His wife has Israeli citizenship and the country does not have an extradition treaty with Peru, so officials fear he may try to seek refuge there.

3 North Korea dares US with missile test (San Francisco Chronicle) North Korea reportedly fired a ballistic missile in what would be its first such test of the year and an implicit challenge to President Donald Trump's new administration. Details of the launch, including the type of missile, were scant.

There was no immediate confirmation from the North, which had recently warned it is ready to test its first intercontinental ballistic missile. The reports come as Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and just days before the North is to mark the birthday of leader Kim Jong Un's late father, Kim Jong Il.

Trump ignored a shouted question about the developing situation as he, Abe and their wives posed for photos before heading to dinner at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile was fired from around Banghyon, North Pyongan Province, which is where South Korean officials have said the North test launched its powerful midrange Musudan missile on Oct. 15 and 20.

Though Pyongyang has been relatively quiet about the transfer of power to the Trump administration, its state media has repeatedly called for Washington to abandon its "hostile policy" and vowed to continue its nuclear and missile development programs until the US changes its diplomatic approach.

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