UBS Faces a New Tax-Evasion Probe (WSJ)
UBS, which paid $780 million in 2009 to settle a separate Justice Department tax-evasion probe, is in the cross hairs again for allegedly helping wealthy clients hide assets, this time through so-called bearer securities. These securities, which were largely phased out of the U.S. financial system beginning in 1982 because of their potential use in tax evasion and money laundering, function essentially like cash, allowing whoever holds the certificate to anonymously claim its value. Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn are weighing evidence gathered with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine whether employees of the bank helped facilitate tax evasion or engaged in securities fraud, people familiar with the investigation said. Authorities are also trying to determine whether anyone at the bank engaged in criminal efforts to cover up the alleged conduct once it became more widely known about within the bank.
Greeks Meet Skepticism in Frankfurt, Brussels (WSJ)
European officials put a damper on plans by the new Greek government to ease conditions on its bailout, warning that without an extension of the existing rescue program—and the austerity measures it contains—the government will lose access to new money by the end of this month. On Wednesday evening the European Central Bank announced it would no longer accept Greek government bonds from banks seeking funds, raising costs and volatility for the country’s lenders at a time of growing deposit outflows.
Sexy, free Tinder ‘swipes’ IAC bottom-line bucks (NYP)
The wild popularity of the red-hot Tinder hook-up app left Barry Diller a little cold in the fourth quarter. Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp warned Wall Street on Wednesday that it may take longer than expected for Tinder to turn profitable. Plans to “monetize” the free Tinder app — transform it into a moneymaking machine by requiring paid subscriptions, tacking on fees for special features, and selling ads — have been delayed until mid-March from an initial January target, execs said. Since December, tests of the premium “Tinder Plus” app have included adding the ability to “undo” after swiping past a dating profile. Currently, a profile that gets swiped is gone forever.
Twitter’s Slowing Growth Rate Weighs on CEO (WSJ)
Twitter’s stock has fallen 16% since a third-quarter report that showed that its growth rate of monthly active users—those who log in to the service at least once a month—shrank after previously gaining momentum. Analysts have tamped down their expectations for the fourth quarter, on average estimating user growth of just 2.8% to 292 million, which would represent the smallest quarterly gain in the company’s history, according to banking-research firm Evercore ISI.
Barber offers 'Benjamin Button' old man cuts for misbehaving kids (UPI)
A suburban Atlanta barber is offering parents of misbehaving kids a "Benjamin Button Special," a haircut designed to make kids look like old men. Russell Fredrick, co-owner of the A-1 Kutz barber shop in Snellville, said the first recipient of the "Benjamin Button Special," a shaved head with the sides and back left in place in the style of a balding elderly man, was his own 12-year-old son. Fredrick told The Washington Post his son's failing grades "dramatically skyrocketed" after receiving the haircut last fall, so he decided to start offering the haircut as a free-of-charge option for parents seeking unconventional disciplinary measures for unruly kids. The first customer to accept the offer, the mother of a 10-year-old who had been misbehaving in school, said the haircut succeeded in correcting his behavior and the boy returned to the store four days later to fix the style.
Warren Buffett, Jack Welch say Fed should put off rate-hike plans (MarketWatch)
Jack Welch said it would be “crazy” for the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates in the current economic environment. “I think it would be ludicrous to raise them right now with the situation we have. We’ve got oil problems…and we’ve got a strong dollar, which is killing exports,” said the former boss of General Electric Corp. GE, -0.25% in an appearance on CNBC on Wednesday. Higher interest rates would only cause the dollar to strengthen further and exports “would fall off the table even more,” said Welch, who ran GE from 1981 to 2001. “It does nothing at all for the U.S. economy to whack it now with everybody around the world easing, easing, easing,” he said. In an interview with the Fox Business Network, Buffett said he didn’t think a rate increase would be “feasible.” “I think it is going to be very tough to raise rates when you’ve got what is going on around the world,” Buffett said.
S.E.C. Commissioners Split on Waiving Financial Industry Punishment (Dealbook)
Oppenheimer & Company has looked the part of a financial industry recidivist, its rap sheet replete with at least 30 regulatory actions over the last decade. On Wednesday, on the heels of the company’s latest infraction, some regulators questioned whether the government had enabled a cycle of misbehavior. Kara M. Stein and Luis A. Aguilar, Democratic members of the Securities and Exchange Commission, criticized their own agency for allowing Oppenheimer to avoid certain repercussions for its behavior. Although Oppenheimer settled a case last week that set off a so-called bad actor ban, which automatically disqualified it from most private offerings of securities, the S.E.C. issued a waiver from that ban. Ms. Stein and Mr. Aguilar voted against the waiver. The commission’s three other members, including two Republicans and the chairwoman, Mary Jo White, voted to support it.
Silk Road website founder Ross Ulbricht found guilty on all counts (NYT)
The FBI arrested Ulbricht in a sting operation in October 2013 accusing him of being the criminal mastermind running Silk Road where items such as narcotics, fake IDs and other illegal goods were sold using bitcoin for payment. Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, charged Ulbricht with seven counts including money laundering, drug trafficking and computer hacking among other things. During the trial the prosecution said that Ulbricht was "Dread Pirate Roberts," which was the alias for Silk Road's operator, and said that he received a portion of every transaction that occurred on the black market website. By the time Silk Road was shut down by the feds in 2013, it had generated almost $213.9 million in sales and $13.2 million in commissions, prosecutors said. Ulbricht conceded that he was indeed the creator of Silk Road, but his defense attorney Joshua Dratel argued that Ulbricht intended for the site to be a "freewheeling, free market site" where almost anything could be sold, barring a few harmful items like certain weapons. However, Ulbricht's defense said that just a few months after creating the marketplace he handed over control to others using the platform. But was lured back right before the FBI busted the operation, thus making Ulbricht the "fall guy," Dratel said. Prosecutors, however, argued that there was no evidence that Ulbricht walked away from the black market as he claimed.
Buffett tells Fox Business he wants a company in Europe (Reuters)
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said on Wednesday he is likely to buy a small business in Western Europe and he would like to buy more businesses abroad. "We'd like to buy more businesses around the world," Buffett, the head of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc, said in an interview with Fox Business Network.
Former Fulton narcotics prosecutor disbarred for felony drug charges (AJC)
The Georgia Supreme Court announced Monday it had disbarred the former top narcotics prosecutor for Fulton County because of his own drug convictions. The high court noted the disbarment of Rand Csehy, who was then in private practice for several years, came after he had received a first-offender plea bargain in his drug case and then was jailed again in September after a Cobb Superior Court judge suspected he was on illegal drugs while representing a client in court. “The Superior Court of Cobb County, noting during an appearance that Csehy was disheveled and unable to stand without support, ordered a drug test, which showed the presence of illegal drugs in his system,” the opinion said. The Cobb episode occurred when Csehy was seeking a lesser punishment than disbarment from the high court. In October, Csehy told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he wasn’t on illegal drugs in court and he would fight the case.