- Chinese premier's family has massive wealth - NYT report
- Obama votes, picks up Powell endorsement amid swing state push
- Wrecked ship's owners plead guilty, fined in New Zealand
Posted: 25 Oct 2012 08:42 PM PDT
(Reuters) - The family of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, a leader known for his humble roots and compassion for ordinary Chinese, has accumulated massive wealth during his time in power, the New York Times reported on Friday.
"A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister's relatives, some of whom have a knack for aggressive deal-making, including his wife, have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion," it said.
The Times' websites in English and Chinese were blocked in China on Friday morning, and searches for the New York Times as well as the names of Wen's children and wife were blocked on China's main Twitter-like microblog service.
Wen's mother, siblings and children have amassed the majority of the wealth since Wen was named vice premier in 1998, the Times reported. Wen was promoted to the premiership in 2003.
Giving one example, the Times said partnerships controlled by Wen's relatives and their friends and colleagues held up to $2.2 billion in stock in Ping An Insurance (Group) Co of China Ltd in 2007, the last year those stock holdings were disclosed in public documents.
Wen's 90-year-old mother had one investment in Ping An that was worth $120 million five years ago, the newspaper added.
The Times said it presented its findings to the Chinese government for comment. The Foreign Ministry declined to respond. Members of Wen's family also declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment, the Times said.
The Foreign Ministry and State Council - China's cabinet, of which Wen is nominally the head - did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment.
The private lives of Chinese leaders as well as their assets are kept under wraps, with personal details considered state secrets.
Still, cases against lower-level officials, often exposed by Chinese media, and reports on senior officials by western and Hong Kong news organisations, underscore the extent to which those with power profit from their standing.
Occasionally, top officials are caught and prosecuted.
In the biggest political scandal in China in decades, now-disgraced senior party leader Bo Xilai, whose wife was convicted of corruption and murder in August, has been expelled from the party and stands accused of corruption, bribery and sexual promiscuity.
Bo was expelled from China's parliament on Friday and is expected to stand trial in the near future.
The extended family of Xi Jinping, China's current vice president who is expected to be named head of China's Communist Party next month and president of the country in March, has also amassed great wealth, according to an earlier news report.
Xi's relatives have investments in companies with assets of $375 million, and an 18 percent indirect stake in a company with $1.7 billion in assets, Bloomberg news reported in June.
Bloomberg's website has been blocked in China since that report was published, underscoring the sensitivity of the Party and government towards such revelations about top leaders.
In the case of Wen and his relatives, the names of family members "have been hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners," the New York Times said.
It said Wen's family's holdings include a villa development project in Beijing, a tire factory in northern China, a company involved in building some of the venues for Beijing's 2008 Olympics including the "Bird's Nest" main stadium, and Ping An Insurance, one of the world's largest financial services companies.
Wen's younger brother has a company that was awarded more than $30 million in government contracts and subsidies for waste water treatment and medical waste disposal in some of China's biggest cities, and controls $200 million in assets in a number of companies, the Times said, basing its estimate on government records.
The Chinese public has a fondness for Wen, who is often referred to as "Grandpa Wen" in the media, for his common touch with ordinary Chinese, and his penchant for rushing to console victims of disasters, such as earthquakes and major accidents.
(Reporting by Terril Yue Jones and Sabrina Mao in BEIJING; Editing by Michael Urquhart and Dean Yates)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 25 Oct 2012 08:39 PM PDT
CHICAGO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama won the endorsement of retired General Colin Powell, a moderate Republican, on Thursday as he and Republican rival Mitt Romney engaged in frantic campaigning in battleground states to try to turn a razor-close race their way.
Hoping to encourage supporters to vote ahead of the November 6 election, Obama cast his ballot early in his home town of Chicago.
Romney portrayed himself as an agent of change during a day campaigning in Ohio with 12 days to go until the election.
There was little movement in the overall state of the race - which is essentially tied. Romney was clinging to a one percentage point lead over Obama in Thursday's Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll, up 47 percent to 46 percent for Obama.
A new ABC News/Washington Post poll showed how Romney has made up ground since defeating Obama in the first of their three presidential debates on October 3. The poll had Romney up by 50 percent to 47 percent among likely voters.
Romney charged that electing Obama would return Washington to a "status-quo path," a path that "doesn't have an answer about how to get the economy going."
"The path we're on does not have new answers," said Romney, whose campaign has been centred around ways to create jobs in the sputtering economy.
Powell's endorsement was a milestone for the president in his re-election bid but since he had backed Obama four years ago, it did not have the same impact this time around.
Powell was a secretary of state during the presidency of Obama's Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. He told CBS he is sticking with Obama because the economy is improving.
"The unemployment rate is too high. People are still hurting in housing. But I see that we are starting to rise up," he said.
'I NEED OHIO'
Showing off his own momentum, Romney appeared at a rally in Defiance, Ohio Thursday night where a campaign-estimated 12,000 people turned out to hear Romney after a concert by Big and Rich, Meat Loaf and Randy Owen of country music group Alabama.
"We need to take America back, and I need Ohio," Romney said. "And Ohio's going to set the course for the nation."
Obama has generated large crowds during a two-day, eight-state tour that is taking him to Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Ohio, California, Illinois and Virginia.
Some 8,500 people showed up for an early morning rally in Tampa, Florida on Thursday and some 15,000 came out for the president in Richmond, Virginia.
The president has sought to rev up enthusiasm and momentum in those crowds by talking about his cross-country trip.
"We are right in the middle of our 48-hour fly-around campaign extravaganza," he said to applause in Florida. "We pulled an all-nighter last night!"
The election will likely be decided in a handful of swing states where the candidates are spending just about all of their time, with none of them more important than Ohio.
The two campaigns squabbled over who has the upper hand in Ohio, where the race is close. Democrats believe they have the edge with an early voting and turn-out operation, but Republicans disagree.
"A steady upward trajectory among key voting blocs indicates a close race, but one that is unmistakably moving in Mitt Romney's direction," said Romney national political director Rich Beeson in an e-mailed memo.
The Romney campaign made clear it would have enough money to fund television advertising in the swing states by announcing his campaign had brought in more than $111 million from October 1 to October 17. The Romney campaign and its Republican allies reported having $169 million cash on hand for the final push.
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Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 25 Oct 2012 08:03 PM PDT
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The owners of a ship which smashed into a reef off a popular New Zealand holiday spot, causing the country's worst environmental disaster in decades, pleaded guilty to causing marine pollution and were fined on Friday.
Daina Shipping, a unit of Greece's Costamare Inc., pleaded guilty to a charge of releasing harmful substances into the sea after its 47,230-tonne Liberian-flagged Rena grounded on a reef a year ago.
The company was fined NZ$300,000 ($246,000), half the maximum penalty it could have paid.
"The guilty plea by the owners has led to this case being resolved in a timely fashion and that is to be welcomed," Maritime New Zealand Director Keith Manch said.
Earlier this month the company agreed to pay NZ$27.6 million ($22.6 million) to the government's costs of cleaning up the pollution and wreckage spread over coastal waters and coastline.
The 236-metre (775-foot) vessel struck a reef about 20 km (12 miles) off Tauranga, New Zealand's biggest export port, in October last year, spewing around 300 tonnes of toxic fuel oil into the ocean, killing thousands of sea birds and fouling beaches up to 100 km (60 miles) from the reef.
The ship's captain and navigation officer, both Filipino nationals, were jailed in May for seven months for operating the ship in a dangerous manner, releasing toxic substances, and altering the ship's documents.
They had admitted to taking short cuts to ensure the ship did not arrive late at Tauranga.
The ship carried more than 1,300 containers and the cargo included a variety of chemicals, in addition to food, timber, and general cargo.
The ship has broken in half. The rear section has fallen off the reef and salvage operators have been cutting up the bow section, which is still aground.
(Reporting by Gyles Beckford)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
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