June 28, 2017

Court Orders Review of German Cable Merger

DÜSSELDORF — A regional court in Germany reversed the antitrust regulator’s approval for Liberty Global’s €3.2 billion acquisition of KabelBW, throwing the now-completed merger into doubt.

The court, in Düsseldorf, ruled that the German regulator would have to look at the case again and either block it or apply stricter conditions to its approval.

The $4.2 billion merger, which was approved in 2011 and completed in early 2012, could ultimately be unwound, rattling a sector already undergoing major changes.

The cartel office said it would study the ruling before deciding about any further steps. It had imposed far-reaching conditions on the deal because Liberty already owns Germany’s second-largest cable operator, UnityMedia.

Germany’s biggest telecommunications group, Deutsche Telekom, had challenged the approval decision. The court had already voiced concerns over the deal in a June hearing.

The court did not allow its decision to be appealed, but UnityMedia can file a complaint with a higher court, Germany’s Federal Court of Justice, to be allowed to appeal.

“The merger implies that KabelBW as the only potential competitor has been taken out of the market,” Jürgen Kühnen, the court’s presiding judge, said. “Potential competition has been eliminated.”

UnityMedia said it would use all legal means available to fight the court’s decision.

Frederik Wiemer, an antitrust lawyer not involved in this case, said the court had looked at several regional markets in Germany, whereas the cartel office came to its decision after mainly considering the national market.

“Certainly this ruling will have dramatic consequences,” he said. “If this decision is upheld by a higher court, the merger will have to be unwound. I wonder whether this is actually possible.”

Liberty Global and the German cable industry leader Kabel Deutschland, which Vodafone agreed to buy for €7.7 billion in June, have been winning customers from Deutsche Telekom with their expansion into broadband.

Their cable lines, designed to deliver television to homes, have been upgraded to carry voice calls and Internet at speeds often five times faster than competing services offered by Deutsche Telekom and others.

Liberty has been the most active buyer in Europe in the past few months, snapping up Britain’s Virgin Media in February and increasing its stake in the Dutch group Ziggo.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/15/business/global/court-orders-review-of-german-cable-merger.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Fact Finder to European Court Backs Google in a Spanish Privacy Battle

An expert opinion requested by the European Court of Justice, which is based in Luxembourg, recommended that Google not be required to expunge all links to a 15-year-old legal notice published in a Barcelona newspaper documenting a Spanish man’s failure to pay back taxes.

The recommendation of the court’s advocate general, Niilo Jaaskinen, who acted as an official fact finder for the panel, could inform the debate in the European Parliament over updating Europe’s 1995 data protection law, which was adopted at the dawn of the Internet broadband era. A proposal before the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the European Union’s upper legislative chamber, would give residents of the 27-nation bloc broader control over the display of personal information, including the digital “right to be forgotten.”

Mr. Jaaskinen concluded that because Google merely aggregated information on the Web and was not a “controller” of information, it was not the legal entity that must comply with the provision of the law in question.

In addition, Mr. Jaaskinen said the 1995 law guaranteed a right to be forgotten only in cases where information was incomplete or inaccurate, which was not at issue in the Spanish case.

Wishing to eliminate embarrassing information is not reason enough to redact public records via Google, the court-appointed expert concluded.

The 1995 law, the court recommendation said, “does not entitle a person to restrict or terminate dissemination of personal data that he considers to be harmful or contrary to his interests.”

The case before the European court involved a Spaniard, Mario Costeja, who wanted Google to eliminate all links to a 1998 legal notice in a Barcelona newspaper, La Vanguardia, with details of a government auction of his property for failure to pay back taxes. One of Spain’s top courts in Madrid, the Audiencia Nacional, asked the European court last year for guidance on how to apply the 1995 law.

The Court of Justice follows expert recommendations like the one announced Tuesday in about three-quarters of cases. A court ruling, which will give guidance to the Spanish high court, is expected this year.

William Echikson, who oversees Google’s freedom-of-expression activities in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, welcomed the advocate general’s recommendation.

“This is a good opinion for free expression,” Mr. Echikson said. “We’re glad to see it supports our long-held view that requiring search engines to suppress legitimate and legal information would amount to censorship.”

Javier Aparicio, a privacy lawyer with Cuatrecasas Goncalves Pereira in Madrid, said the court’s recommendation would compel the Spanish data regulator, the Spanish Data Protection Agency, to end its practice of trying to compel Google to redact its own search results to suit the desires of Spanish citizens.

The Spanish regulator said in a statement that it noted the advocate general’s opinion, but declined to comment on the recommendations before the European court’s decision.

The agency said its policy of requesting deletions on behalf of Spanish citizens was not meant to squelch free expression or alter the historical record. Deletions were requested of Google only in cases where information was “obsolete, lacked any relevance or public interest, and where widespread dissemination would lead to the harm of the applicant,” the statement said.

Spain had been particularly aggressive in enforcing parts of the 1995 law’s prohibition against storing data on criminal and administrative infractions of individuals.

In the last five years, the regulator has filed 180 requests with Google on behalf of Spanish citizens seeking the deletion of links to criminal convictions, administrative sanctions, involvement in child custody disputes and arrests where charges were dropped. Google has consistently refused the requests.

Spanish law gives individuals a broad right to limit the “indiscriminate” dissemination of personal data, even when the original publication was legitimate, if the information “no longer has relevance or public interest,” according to a statement by the regulator, which is based in Madrid.

Google has challenged the requests in Spanish court, arguing that it provides digital links to information only already in the Spanish public domain. Google also has said that the 1995 European law’s exemption of “platforms” included Web services like the Google search engine, which is the market leader in Spain.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/business/global/european-court-opinion-favors-google-in-privacy-battle.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Luxembourg Backs Challenge to Financial Transaction Tax

As Europe’s largest financial centre, London has the most to lose if finance firms move their trading operations to parts of the world free from such taxes.

“We are very sympathetic to the stance of the UK … We will certainly bring our support to the case that has been started in the European Court of Justice,” Frieden said during a question and answer session at the City Week banking conference.

The British government last week filed a deadline day challenge to the tax at the European Court of Justice.

A successful legal case against the tax would hinder its application outside those countries that sign up to it and could significantly cut the amount of revenue it brings in.

As the biggest trading centre in the EU, Britain would probably end up collecting much of the tax even though it won’t be applying it.

Germany has argued that banks, hedge funds and high-frequency traders should pay for a financial crisis that began in mid-2007 and exposed sovereign debt problems that forced euro zone countries to bail out peers such as Portugal and Greece.

Frieden told Reuters shortly after he made the comments that Luxembourg was now looking at whether to formally add its signature to the UK’s challenge, rather than just voice support.

“This is something that I have to examine. We are now in a political process and then I have to look into the details,” he said.

Speaking at the same conference, Thomas Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also stressed his country’s objections to the plans.

“European leaders are moving forward with proposals that are non-starters for the United States, for example the financial transaction tax and cap on bonuses for U.S. employees.”

“We will not allow the FTT to happen and we are going to be very careful how compensation is capped, regulated and dealt with like price control,” he said.

(Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Toby Chopra/Ruth Pitchford)

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2013/04/22/business/22reuters-banking-tax-luxembourg-fin-min.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

French Court Delays Ruling on Lagarde Investigation

The Court of Justice, which oversees ministers’ actions in office, said it would delay a decision on whether to look into her handling in 2007 of a court case involving a French tycoon until July 8. That means that there will be no legal clarity on the issue until after the I.M.F. has chosen its next managing director on June 30.

Ms. Lagarde and Agustín Carstens, Mexico’s central bank governor, both declared officially Friday that they were running for I.M.F. managing director, beating a deadline of midnight Friday in Washington set by the fund.

Also Friday, Russia nominated Grigori Martchenko, Kazakhstan’s central bank president. Mr. Martchenko has acknowledged that Ms. Lagarde, who is backed by European leaders, is the favorite in the race.

South Africa’s finance minister, Trevor Manuel, said Friday that he would not run.

Ms. Lagarde traveled to Lisbon on Friday to gather support from African leaders at a meeting of the African Development Bank, the latest in a series of campaign stops she has made to persuade leaders of emerging countries that she should get the job.

These countries have expressed alarm that Europe is aggressively pushing to keep the I.M.F.’s top spot in European hands. But they also appear to be concluding that Ms. Lagarde would have more clout than Mr. Carstens to eventually elevate their own influence at the fund at a time when their economies’ growth is outpacing those in the West.

By all accounts, these dynamics make Ms. Lagarde the front-runner for one of the most powerful positions in global finance. But future court action may cast a cloud over those ambitions.

At issue is whether Ms. Lagarde abused her authority as finance minister in one of France’s longest-running legal soap operas.

Ms. Lagarde ordered in 2007 that a dispute that had raged in French courts for 14 years between Bernard Tapie, a flamboyant French businessman and friend of President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Crédit Lyonnais, a state-owned bank, be referred to a three-person arbitration panel.

Mr. Tapie, a former chief of the Adidas sports empire and a former minister in the Socialist Party who defected to support Mr. Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign, accused Crédit Lyonnais in 1993 of cheating him when it oversaw the sale of his stake in Adidas.

It was Mr. Sarkozy who suggested that the finance ministry, which was overseeing the case because Crédit Lyonnais was a ward of the French state, move the case to arbitration.

The arbitration panel ultimately awarded Mr. Tapie a settlement of about $580 million, including interest.

Ms. Lagarde defended her decision to remove the case from the French court system, saying it would keep more taxpayer money from being spent to fight the case. The ultimate award to Mr. Tapie came from the state’s coffers.

She has also denied accusations that her decision not to appeal the award was a reward for Mr. Tapie’s political support of Mr. Sarkozy.

“I have a clear conscience,” she said two weeks ago when she announced her candidacy for the I.M.F. post. Ms. Lagarde said she would not withdraw her candidacy even if an investigation were opened.

If the court decides on July 8 not to investigate, all legal proceedings against Ms. Lagarde in the matter would stop.

If it rules otherwise, Ms. Lagarde would have to gird for a possibly lengthy legal process, although she would not necessarily be required to be present in France for the proceedings, said Christopher Mesnooh, a partner specializing in international business law at Field Fisher Waterhouse in Paris.

More important, “if they take things forward, it means they believe that there is a prima facie case,” Mr. Mesnooh said. So if Ms. Lagarde does get the I.M.F. post, “there’s still going to be a legal investigation at a very high level that will be taking place in France,” he said. “That is not ideal, given what has happened with the last managing director of the I.M.F.”

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the previous managing director, resigned last month after he was charged with the attempted rape of a hotel maid in New York.

Although Mr. Sarkozy refrained from backing Ms. Lagarde publicly until nearly every other leader in Europe, including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, had done so, he defended her recently at the Group of Eight meeting in Deauville, France.

“The legal risks weighing on the candidacy of Christine Lagarde for the I.M.F. are manageable,” he said.

Ms. Lagarde, who traveled this past week to Brazil, India and China, is to go to Saudi Arabia on Saturday and Egypt on Sunday. Mr. Carstens, who has said that 12 Latin American countries have endorsed him, plans stops in India and China.

The United States has not backed a candidate, although the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, has said that Ms. Lagarde and Mr. Carstens are qualified.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=2e7bf24309ed33fedabefb8fb9b3644f