Law firm praises Saudi Arabia tax amnesty extension

A senior tax lawyer has praised Saudi Arabia’s decision to extend the tax amnesty for international companies to June 30. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 03 February 2021

Law firm praises Saudi Arabia tax amnesty extension

  • If it is settled between April and May, there will be 75 percent exemption of fines

RIYADH: A senior tax lawyer has praised Saudi Arabia’s decision to extend the tax amnesty for international companies to June 30.

The scheme, introduced in 2020, provides taxpayers with the opportunity to regularize their positions in relation to Saudi corporate income tax, withholding taxes and value-added tax.

“With the KSA General Authority for Zakat and Tax (GAZT) having become much more assertive on tax compliance over the past year, we have witnessed an increasing number of international taxpayers successfully using the scheme,” Ton van Doremalen, partner and head of tax in the Middle East at law firm DLA Piper, said in a statement.

As per the provisions of the amnesty scheme, if the tax is paid between January and March 2021, there will be 100 percent exemption of fines.

If it is settled between April and May, there will be 75 percent exemption of fines. And if the amount is not paid until June, the exemption is 50 percent.

According to DLA Piper, a “wide variety” of international businesses have used the amnesty scheme already, including overseas digital businesses selling services to Saudi customers, and international groups with a permanent office in the Kingdom.

HP wins fraud case against UK tech tycoon Mike Lynch

Updated 28 January 2022

HP wins fraud case against UK tech tycoon Mike Lynch

LONDON: Hewlett-Packard won the majority of its civil case against British tech tycoon Mike Lynch over its acquisition of Autonomy in 2011, a London judge said on Friday, though damages will be considerably less than the $5 billion claimed.
The court’s decision comes on the same day as Britain has to decide whether or not to extradite Lynch to the United States after almost a decade of bitter wrangling over who was to blame for the failure of Hewlett-Packard’s $11 billion takeover of Lynch’s Autonomy.
HP had sued Lynch, arguing that he had fraudulently inflated the value of Autonomy before he sold it to the US tech giant. Lynch had argued that HP mismanaged the acquisition.
High Court Justice Robert Hildyard said HP had substantially succeeded in their case but the damages would be less than they were demanding.
Lynch faces separate criminal charges in the US, including wire fraud and securities fraud.
A year after acquiring Autonomy, HP threw out the architect of the deal which was supposed to help transform the computer and printer maker, one of Silicon Valley’s original companies, into a more profitable group centered on business software and services.
It wrote down the value of Autonomy by $8.8 billion and sought damages of around $5 billion from Lynch and his colleague Sushovan Hussain, alleging they inflated the value of Autonomy before selling it. Hussain was convicted in the United States in 2019.
Lynch has denied all the allegations.
Lynch is due to hear on Friday whether Britain’s interior minister Priti Patel has approved the extradition request to the United States.
A court has given Patel until midnight on Friday to make a decision, although Lynch could appeal any ruling that goes against him. The US charges carry a maximum term of 20 years imprisonment.
Lynch is one of Britain’s leading tech bosses. He founded Autonomy which was capable of searching and organizing unstructured information, such as telephone conversations.
The 56-year-old’s doctoral thesis remains one of the most consulted at Cambridge University and his success, including the around $800 million he made from his stake in Autonomy, elevated his position in Britain, giving him a place on government advisory boards.
Lynch was also central to the creation of DarkTrace , a cybersecurity firm that listed on the stock market last year. Lynch and his wife Angela Bacares own nearly 16 percent of DarkTrace, according to Refinitiv

Global stocks head for worst January since 2008 financial crisis

Updated 28 January 2022

Global stocks head for worst January since 2008 financial crisis

  • MSCI’s 50-country main world index is now down over 8.1 percent for the month

LONDON: European stocks fell heavily again on Friday as worries about a sudden halt to central bank stimulus and rising tensions between Western powers and Moscow drove one of the worst ever starts to a year for world stock markets.
Strong earnings from Apple provided some encouragement for battered tech and US markets, but traders were struggling to draw a line under a global selloff that has now firmly taken root.
The pan-European STOXX 600 tumbled 1.5 percent in morning trading, on course for its fourth straight weekly drop, while US futures were pointing to more crimson screens on Wall Street later too..
MSCI’s 50-country main world index is now down over 8.1 percent for the month, which will be its worst January since the 2008 global financial crisis year.
The dollar, meanwhile, is on track for its best week in seven months on bets that US interest rates could now go up as many as five times this year.
“With the Federal Reserve sounding a lot more hawkish, it has shaken the markets,” said Jeremy Gatto, a multi-asset portfolio manager at Unigestion in Switzerland.
“Markets can live with rate hikes, but the main question remains around the balance sheet,” he added. Markets have been driven up by all the stimulus pumped in during the COVID-19 crisis, “so if it starts reducing liquidity, that changes the game.”
The Fed indicated this week that it is likely to raise rates in March, as widely expected, and reaffirmed plans to end its pandemic-era bond purchases that month before launching a significant reduction in its asset holdings.
The prospect of faster or larger US interest rate hikes, and possible stimulus withdrawal, lifted the dollar to a 20-month high of $1.1119 per euro and to 115.50 yen — close to a high of year so far of 116.35 yen.
In the big government bond markets that drive global borrowing costs, benchmark 10-year US Treasury yields rose to 1.84 percent compared with their US close of 1.80 percent on Thursday. The two-year yield, which is even more sensitive to rate hike expectations, touched 1.22 percent, having started the year at roughly 0.75 percent.
European bond yields also rose further. Germany’s 10-year yield, the benchmark for the euro zone, was up over half a bp to -0.02 percent although still not quite able to break through the zero threshold.
Focus was also on Italy, where bond yields were back up around 4 bps after a late afternoon rally on Thursday while its parliament struggled to elect a new president.

Oil prices remained strong, set for their sixth weekly gain, amid concerns of tight supplies as major producers continue their policy of limited output increases amid rising fuel demand.
Brent crude futures climbed 57 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $89.91 a barrel, just shy of the $91.04 hit earlier in the week that was the highest level since October 2014.
A sixth week of gains will also mark the longest weekly winning streak for Brent since October last year, when Brent prices climbed for seven weeks while US WTI gained for nine.
This year, prices have risen about 15 percent amid geopolitical tensions between Russia, the world’s second-largest oil producer and a key natural gas provider to Europe, and the West over Ukraine, as well as threats to the United Arab Emirates from Yemen’s Houthi movement that have raised concerns about energy supply.
“Where Brent crosses the $90 level, we see some selling from a sense of accomplishment, but investors start buying again when the prices fall a little as they remain cautious about possible supply disruptions due to rising geopolitical tensions,” said Tatsufumi Okoshi, senior economist at Nomura Securities.
“The market expects supply will stay tight as the OPEC+ is seen to keep the existing policy of gradual increase in production,” he said.
The market is focusing on a Feb. 2 meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies led by Russia, a group known as OPEC+. It is likely to stick with a planned rise in its oil output target for March, several sources in the group told Reuters.


Oil heads for sixth weekly advance amid geopolitical tensions

Updated 28 January 2022

Oil heads for sixth weekly advance amid geopolitical tensions

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday there was “little cause for optimism” following the US’s official response to Russian demands around NATO expansion.

RIYADH: Oil prices rose on Friday, headed for a sixth straight weekly advance, as geopolitical concerns centered on Russia and Ukraine raised the prospect of supply disruptions.

Brent crude gained 0.8 percent to $90.08 a barrel at 2:39 p.m. Riyadh time, after reaching a seven-year high of $91.04 on Thursday.

US benchmark WTI climbed 0.7 percent to $87.25 after reaching a seven-year high of $88.54 earlier in the trading session.

Both grades are on course for a sixth consecutive weekly gain, which would be the longest streak since October.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday there was “little cause for optimism” following the US’s official response to Russian demands around NATO expansion and European security. However, he reiterated that Russia does not want war with Ukraine.

“The risk premium on the oil price is now likely to be almost $10/bbl,” Commerzbank commodities analyst Carsten Fritsch wrote in a research note.

Price gains have been limited by the strength of the US dollar, which is on track for its biggest weekly gain in seven months as Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell signalled the central bank will raise interest rates as soon as March to contain inflation.

Traders remain focused on the next meeting on Feb. 2 of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies led by Russia, collectively known as OPEC+, which is likely to see the group continue with its plan to add 400,000 barrels a day of supply to the market every month as it replaces pandemic-related cuts of 10 million barrels a day.

A longer-term bullish signal for oil prices came from the US on Thursday when a federal judge invalidated the results of an oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico saying the Biden administration failed to properly account for the auction’s climate change impact.

The decision has cast uncertainty over the future of the US federal offshore drilling program. The Gulf of Mexico accounts for 15 percent of existing US oil production and 5 percent of dry natural gas output, according to the Energy Information Administration.

In a sign of growing global demand, crude oil imports by China, the world’s biggest importer of the commodity, could rebound by as much as 7 percent this year, analysts and oil company officials said.

End of Facebook’s cryptocurrency dreams points to challenges for stablecoins

Updated 28 January 2022

End of Facebook’s cryptocurrency dreams points to challenges for stablecoins

  • Facebook is said to be planning to sell the technical assets of Diem after facing regulatory pushback

LONDON: Facebook is said to be winding down its cryptocurrency project Diem and preparing to sell its assets following regulatory pushback in the US

The Diem Association, launched by Facebook in 2019 and supported by 25 businesses, will sell its technology to California-based Silvergate Bank for $200 million, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the discussions.

Originally named Libra, the crypto coin was initially planned to be backed by a basket of currencies, but under pressure from regulators narrowed its ambition to assuming the status of a stablecoin, backed one-to-one by US dollars.

Similar products already exist in the form of other stablecoins, such as Tether, Dai, Binance USD and USD Coin.

They are braced for action from regulators, who have shown an increasing interest in stablecoins and other crypto assets of late. Facebook’s failure to launch a preapproved coin does not bode well for them.

A report in November from the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency called for urgent legislative action to limit the issuance of stablecoins to insured depository institutions and to enable their regulation.

They are most concerned about their ability to destabilize the financial system if there is a sudden run on withdrawals. The market for stablecoins is growing rapidly — up to nearly $130 billion as of the end of October from closer to $23 billion at the same time last year.

Stablecoins are mainly used in transactions involving other digital currencies, but they have the potential to be used in retail transactions as companies like Visa explore services relating to them.

However, there are reasons to believe stablecoins will not meet the same fate as Diem, which faced some unique challenges.

Because of Facebook’s size – it has about 2.9 billion users – it was always going to face greater scrutiny than rival products. It was liaising with regulators during a period of numerous scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica privacy row, which meant trust in the social media pioneer was historically low.

Diem hired former HSBC legal chief Stuart Levey as its first CEO and, in May last year, moved its headquarters from Switzerland to the US in an attempt to placate regulators. But the writing was on the wall when founder David Marcus left the company at the end of 2021.

However, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has not given up all its crypto ambitions. It built a digital currency wallet, called Novi, and released it as a small pilot in October. Novi is central to its plans to pivot toward projects related to allowing its users to buy and sell non-fungible tokens, known as NFTs, which became a $40 billion market in 2021.

Don’t expect this to be the end of Meta’s crypto ambitions.

On the markets today, Bitcoin was down 0.6 percent to $36,379, while Ethereum declined 2.9 percent to $2,379.

However, outflows of $670 million of Bitcoin from centralized exchanges is a bullish sign for the largest cryptocurrency, according to CoinDesk. Most investors prefer to have direct custody of coins when they intend to hold them for the longer term, it said.

34 US states back Epic Games in anti-trust suit against Apple

Updated 28 January 2022

34 US states back Epic Games in anti-trust suit against Apple

  • Attorneys-general accuse Apple of stifling competition

OAKLAND, California: Apple Inc. is stifling competition through its mobile app store, attorneys general for 34 US states and the District of Columbia said on Thursday, as they appealed against a ruling that let the iPhone maker continue some restrictive practices.

While dozens of state attorneys general have filed recent antitrust lawsuits against other big tech companies, including Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc. and Alphabet Inc’s Google, none had so far taken aim at Apple.
Thursday’s remarks, led by the state of Utah and joined by Colorado, Indiana, Texas and others, came in a lawsuit in an appeals court against app store fees and payment tools between “Fortnite” video game maker Epic Games and Apple.
“Apple’s conduct has harmed and is harming mobile app-developers and millions of citizens,” the states said.
“Meanwhile, Apple continues to monopolize app distribution and in-app payment solutions for iPhones, stifle competition, and amass supracompetitive profits within the almost trillion-dollar-a-year smartphone industry.”
The action comes after a US district judge in Oakland, California, mostly ruled against Epic last year.
That decision found that commissions of 15 percent to 30 percent which Apple charges some app makers for use of an in-app payment system the company forced on them did not violate antitrust law.
Epic challenged the ruling in the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. On Thursday, professors, activist groups and the states weighed in through court filings that described legal arguments in support.
Apple’s reply is expected in March. On Thursday, the company said it was optimistic that Epic’s challenge would fail.
The states said in their filing that the lower court erred by failing to adequately balance the pros and cons of Apple’s rules and also by deciding that a key antitrust law did not apply to non-negotiable contracts Apple makes developers sign.
“Paradoxically, firms with enough market power to unilaterally impose contracts would be protected from antitrust scrutiny — precisely the firms whose activities give the most cause for antitrust concern,” they said.