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France Opens Probe Into Assad Uncle’s Assets

Hollande Giving Workers Say in M&A Deepens Fortress-France Image

Vivendi-owned SFR said 1.5 million homes will be within range of its fibre service from the end of 2013, with a promotional price of 9.99 per month for a year. Iliad’s Free in turn said its fibre to the home service would be available to Free Revolution subscribers at no extra charge. Its existing phone, broadband and TV packages start at 29.99 a month. The two operators also unveiled new VDSL offerings to complement their fibre rollouts from 1 October, which is the date from which commercial VDSL2 services are permitted on a nationwide basis in France according to French regulator Arcep. Tests have been carried out on the technology in the Dordogne and the Gironde departments since April. SFR cited information from Arcep that said an upgrade to VDSL2 could give six percent of the 31 million copper lines in France download speeds of more than 30Mbps. Orange, France’s biggest telco, has already been investing in VDSL2, equipping 16 percent of its lines in the country with the technology. SFR said ‘Box de SFR’ customers with eligible lines would benefit from VDSL technology free of charge and could order the upgrade via their online accounts, while VDSL will be available to new customers subscribing to a 19.99 Multi-Pack plan with a bundled-in mobile plan. Free also said eligible ADSL users will now get higher-speed connections via ADSL2+ or VDSL2 for no extra cost. However, Free has already come under fire from Arcep for what the regulator describes as misleading information about the two high-speed broadband services. With regard to the fibre, Free is claiming its FTTH offering is far better than the GPON approach being taken by other French operators because each subscriber will receive a dedicated 1Gbps line.

Its implicitly aimed at foreigners and meant to defend French interests. Its ridiculous. The biggest French companies have significant foreign investors and are very international. Seen from abroad, this will scare everyone. The debate over protecting French interests has been a political hot potato since Canadian aluminum maker Alcan Inc. bought French rival Pechiney SA a decade ago, eventually breaking it up and shutting plants. More recently, ArcelorMittal, the worlds largest steelmaker, decided to shutter a plant in France in the north-eastern city of Florange. The plant was the site where French President Francois Hollande pledged a few months before being elected in May 2012 to pass a law forcing large firms to sell rather than close sites to cap unemployment, which now stands at a 14-year high. Socialist Credentials The Socialist president, whose popularity is at a record low, is trying to make good on that campaign promise after being accused by some unions of caving in to ArcelorMittal when he ruled against a proposal by Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg to temporarily nationalize the Florange plant last December. The event is a central episode in the ministers just-released book La bataille du made in France, on defending the countrys industry in the face of large corporations with questionable behavior. With the bill, Hollande is seeking to re-burnish his credentials with his base. To its opponents, the bill asks potential buyers to stay out. The provision forcing a search for a buyer of sites before their closure could be interpreted as telling foreign investors not to invest in France, Jean-Claude Rivalland, a partner at Allen & Overy LLP in Paris, said in an interview.

A judicial source told AFP the investigation had been opened into Rifaat al-Assad, the brother of Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez, after a criminal complaint filed on September 13. The complaint, by anti-corruption groups Sherpa and Transparency International, alleges the 76-year-old illegally acquired “extraordinary wealth” in France through corrupt schemes and embezzlement. Once a stalwart of the Syrian authorities, Rifaat al-Assad broke with his brother’s government in 1984 and reportedly has no links with the current regime, which is fighting in a civil conflict that has left more than 110,000 dead since it began in March 2011. Before splitting from the regime, Rifaat al-Assad was accused of being responsible for the deaths of thousands during the crushing of a Sunni Islamist uprising in 1982. The massacre in the town of Hama, by troops allegedly under Rifaat al-Assad’s command, left between 10,000 and 25,000 dead. Rifaat al-Assad has denied any involvement and in 2011 dismissed allegations he was behind the killings as “a myth.” The criminal complaint accuses Rifaat al-Assad of acquiring wealth “in the billions of euros” through corruption, embezzlement of public funds, misuse of corporate assets and other crimes, noting that he had “no known professional activity.” The head of Sherpa, William Bourdon, welcomed the prosecutors’ decision as a “first step” but said a full probe by investigating magistrates needed to be launched. “It is obvious that only an examining magistrate has the necessary authority to deal with offences of such a complex and international nature,” he told AFP, adding that a magistrate would also have more power to seize assets. French media have reported that Rifaat al-Assad’s holdings include a mansion and several dozen apartments in Paris, with newspaper Le Monde estimating the total value of his estate in France at 160 million euros ($215 million). Le Monde reported earlier this year that the potential sale of one of his properties — a mansion on the prestigious Avenue Foch — fell through after potential Russian buyers offered only 70 million euros. Once considered a possible successor to his brother, Rifaat al-Assad fled to France after being placed under house arrest following a failed coup attempt. His estrangement from the regime means he has not been affected by the freezing of assets and travel restrictions imposed by the European Union against Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle. Rifaat’s son, Siwar al-Assad, told France Info radio earlier that the family’s wealth was legitimate and promised to cooperate with any investigation. He said that after settling in France his father had received funds from “states, leaders and friends abroad.” “We are utterly transparent in our investments, nothing was done in secret, the origins of our funds were completely legal,” he said.

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