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Reuters

Exclusive: Flush with corruption cash, Brazilian states step up deforestation fight

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BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian states are bolstering the fight against destruction of the Amazon rainforest with millions of dollars from an oil company’s corruption settlement that allows them to partially compensate for weakening environmental protections under President Jair Bolsonaro.

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of a tract of Amazon jungle burning as it is cleared by farmers in Itaituba, Para, Brazil September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes/File Photo

State environmental agencies will have a one-off windfall that Reuters calculates will total at least 140 million reais ($27 million). The cash, which comes from a massive settlement payment from state-run oil firm Petrobras, will be spent on patrol officers, jeeps, surveillance technology and other outlays to protect the rainforest, officials in all nine Amazon states told Reuters.

“It fell from the sky. You open and look at your bank balance and there’s money you didn’t even know that you had,” said Roberio Nobre, the head of the environmental agency in Amapa state, on Brazil’s northern border with French Guiana.

The amount of money going to the state environmental agencies has not been previously reported.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon climbed to an 11-year high in 2019 and continues to rise this year.

That has coincided with a decline in resources at Brazil’s federal environment agency Ibama. Its budget has been repeatedly cut in recent years and it now has less than half the 1,600 field agents it had in 2009.

Although the fall in funding began before Bolsonaro, environmental advocates blame him for worsening the situation by weakening protections for the rainforest. Bolsonaro has railed against what he sees as overzealous environmental regulation getting in the way of economic development.

“The transfer of money from the Petrobras Fund comes at an opportune time. The states can fill the vacuum and act as a counterpoint to the federal government,” said Ana Karine Pereira, an environmental policy professor at University of Brasilia.

Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as Petrobras is formally known, was the center of Brazil’s largest-ever corruption scandal – the Car Wash probe – that involved bribes being paid to hundreds of politicians and business leaders to fix public construction contracts.

The oil company admitted wrongdoing related to record keeping and internal controls, ultimately agreeing to pay a $853 million fine to settle charges that it violated U.S. anti-corruption laws. U.S. authorities agreed to return most of the proceeds to the Brazilian government.

After fires surged in the Amazon rainforest last year and provoked international outcry, Brazil’s Supreme Court decided to direct a chunk of the funds to environmental protection at the state level.

For normally cash-strapped states, the money has radically expanded budgets.

The environment agency in Pará, the Brazilian state with the highest level of deforestation last year, received 49 million reais, double their annual budget of 24 million reais. It will be spent over two years.

Pará is hiring an additional 100 environmental field agents to patrol for deforestation and other crimes, 10 times the number of agents they had before. They will conduct their first raids in June, Pará environmental chief Mauro O’de Almeida said.

Several of the states have lengthy written plans for how the money will be used.

Amapa’s plan, for example, ranges from buying deforestation monitoring equipment to reassessing its protected reserve areas, Nobre said.

Roraima, which borders Venezuela, has a 35-page document that pledges to promote sustainable agriculture and educate locals on fire prevention. State environmental agency chief Ionilson Souza said some of the funds will be used to hire firefighters in October when forest fires usually peak.

Not all states will spend the money on the environment. The Supreme Court decided in May that four states would be allowed to redirect the funds, partially or in full, to fighting the coronavirus.

The Bolsonaro government has sought to militarize environmental enforcement, sending thousands of soldiers to the Amazon last month to combat deforestation.

Environmental advocates say the military cannot effectively replace permanent oversight by specialist agencies like Ibama.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Vice President Hamilton Mourao, a retired general presiding over the operation, has acknowledged sending in the military was not ideal but says it is the best option available to the cash-strapped government. He said last month that the ultimate goal is to build up Ibama’s staffing and funding by 2022, when Bolsonaro’s first term will end.

States say they are picking up the slack.

“We’re not waiting for help. We’re doing our part,” Pará environment chief O’de Almeida said.

Reporting by Jake Spring, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/topNews/~3/6vmhgmtskmk/exclusive-flush-with-corruption-cash-brazilian-states-step-up-deforestation-fight-idUSKBN23A1EH

Blockchain

India to have a ‘window’ for Bitcoin, says minister amid crypto ban FUD

The Ministry of Finance of India continues to form a careful position on private cryptocurrencies.

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The minister of finance of India, Nirmala Sitharaman, has given a ray of hope for the Indian cryptocurrency community as more fear, uncertainty and doubt circulate regarding a supposedly impending ban on digital assets. 

In a Saturday interview with India Today, Sitharaman emphasized that the ministry does not plan to shut off Indian innovations associated with Bitcoin (BTC) and its underlying blockchain technology.

“From our side, we are very clear that we are not shutting all options off. We will allow certain windows for people use, so that experiments on the blockchain, Bitcoins or cryptocurrency […] and fintech, which depend on such experiments, will have that window available for them. We are not going to shut it off,” she said.

Sitharaman said that the ministry is finalizing a cabinet note on crypto as India continues formulating its official stance on the asset class. “It is nearing completion, and then it will be taken to the cabinet. The Supreme Court had commented on cryptocurrency. We are very clear that the Reserve Bank of India will take a call on an official cryptocurrency,” she said.

After India’s supreme court lifted a crypto banking ban one year ago, reports of a new ban started circulating in early 2021. In February, another anonymous Indian official claimed that the government was about to introduce a complete ban on crypto, giving investors up to six months to liquidate their holdings.

On Sunday, Reuters published a report citing an anonymous senior government official who claimed that India is preparing to enforce a blanket ban on crypto and impose major penalties on rule-breakers. As part of an alleged bill, India is planning to criminalize “possession, issuance, mining, trading and transferring crypto-assets,” the source claimed.

Despite reports of a ban from anonymous sources continuing to surface, Sitharaman said in early March that the ministry wants to form a “calibrated” stance on digital assets. 

Nischal Shetty, founder of local crypto exchange WazirX, seemed optimistic about Sitharaman’s comments in a tweet, stating that it is time for the Indian crypto community to build. 

The RBI and the Ministry of Finance did not immediately respond to Cointelegraph’s request for comment.

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Source: https://cointelegraph.com/news/india-to-have-a-window-for-bitcoin-says-minister-amid-crypto-ban-fud

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Reuters

Fintech banker McLaughlin hunts bigger deal after upsized SPAC IPO

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – The blank check firm co-founded by one of the most prominent U.S. financial technology investment bankers will broaden its search for merger partners to companies worth up to $10 billion after pricing a larger initial public offering (IPO).

Steve McLaughlin started FT Partners in 2001 and since then, the fintech-focused investment bank has worked on mergers and acquisitions and public and private fundraising for the likes of BlackRock Inc, StoneCo Ltd and GreenSky Inc.

An alumnus of Goldman Sachs, McLaughlin and FT Partners have also been involved in advising a half-dozen firms in mergers with so-called special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), most recently mobile bank MoneyLion’s $2.9 billion combination with Fusion Acquisition Corp.

Alongside Gene Yoon, founder of technology-focused investment firm Bregal Sagemount, McLaughlin is now sponsoring his own SPAC. Independence Holdings Corp. priced a $435 million IPO on Monday, having increased the number of units sold due to investor demand.

SPACs are shell companies that raise funds from investors to take a private company public.

Pulling in extra cash and fully exercising the greenshoe, a share allotment potentially sold in the days after an IPO prices, McLaughlin told Reuters on Tuesday, will allow Independence to target larger fintech companies, beyond the $5 billion maximum size previously considered.

He added a deal involving a company that processes payments between businesses, or one providing financial management services, would be likely for Independence.

“We provide an incredibly attractive option for a company as we’ve successfully taken many companies through this complex process, so we can give comfort to founders and investors along the way,” McLaughlin said.

Despite heightened investor interest in cryptocurrencies, McLaughlin said Independence wouldn’t be investing in a firm in that industry because most businesses are still too early in their development.

He added it was highly unlikely that Independence would end up merging with a client of his investment bank.

Source: Reuters – Fintech banker McLaughlin hunts bigger deal after upsized SPAC IPO

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Reuters

Former Disney executives Mayer and Staggs plan new SPAC – source

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(Reuters) – Former Walt Disney Co executives Kevin Mayer and Thomas Staggs plan to raise $300 million in an initial public offering for a new special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

The duo’s first SPAC, Forest Road Acquisition Corp, agreed a three-way merger last week with fitness companies Beachbody LLC and Myx Fitness LLC that was valued at around $2.9 billion.

Former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, who is also on the board of directors at pizza chain Papa John’s International Inc, and Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, are working for Forest Road II as a strategic advisor and a director, respectively, the source said.

Mayer and Staggs will serve as co-chief executives and co-chairmen of the new SPAC, the source said. They had worked with the first Forest Road SPAC as a strategic advisor and director, respectively.

The source requested anonymity ahead of a regulatory disclosure on the SPAC IPO.

Mayer was Disney’s top streaming executive before he left the media giant last year to become the chief executive of popular video app TikTok. He departed the company three months after joining. Staggs worked at Disney for 26 years and held various roles including chief operating officer.

SPACs are shell companies that raise funds to take a private company public. They have gained immense popularity since last year, as they allow companies to go public by eschewing traditional IPOs.

A string of high-profile SPACs have been raised in the last 12 months, including by financial investors William Ackman and Barry Sternlicht, former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Source: Reuters – Former Disney executives Mayer and Staggs plan new SPAC-source

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Reuters

Global firms raise $546 billion in January as SPAC frenzy continues

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(Reuters) – Companies raised $546 billion from new bond and share issues in January, as a flood of central bank money-printing and recovering stock markets brought record numbers of new listings, SPAC deals and share sales, Refinitiv data showed on Wednesday.

The numbers included $106.15 billion in initial public offerings (IPOs), SPACs and secondary offerings, with the amount of money raised by SPACs alone soaring 20 times to $24.26 billion from a year earlier, the data showed.

Companies also raised nearly $439.9 billion in corporate debt in January, a 5% fall since the same period last year, but still the second largest January in 25 years.

A SPAC, a shell company that raises money in an IPO before later merging with a privately held company to take the latter public, has become many investors structure of choice over the past year.

January’s haul was already 30% of a total $79 billion raised by SPACs in the whole of 2020.

Traditional IPO volumes in the United States, however, remained higher than SPACs in January, hitting a 25-year high of $33.9 billion.

Some 47% new bond and share issues were U.S. offerings in January this year, with China second with $23.96 billion.

Nasdaq was the clear winner among exchanges, with 167 issues raising $41.12 billion, followed by the New York Stock Exchange and the Hong Kong Exchange a close third, with both raking in a little more than $18 billion respectively.

That was in stark contrast to European financial hubs London and Frankfurt, which raised $4.29 billion and $1.72 billion respectively.

Chinese online video company Kuaishou Technology is the biggest IPO globally so far this year, raising $5.42 billion in Hong Kong, followed by Polish parcel locker business InPost SA which raised $3.40 billion in Amsterdam.

Source: Reuters – Global firms raise $546 billion in January as SPAC frenzy continues

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