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Biz Buzz: Lawsuit-laden Indon tries brokering Du30-Jokowi biz deal

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Biz Buzz: Lawsuit-laden Indon tries brokering Du30-Jokowi biz deal

/ 12:34 AM April 21, 2017

A once prominent Indonesian businessman now battling criminal cases in various Philippine courts is said to be trying to get back into the infrastructure game in a big way. And he’s hoping to use no less than next week’s Asean Summit for his grand comeback.

The businessman—Mr. SW— was previously involved in the local infra scene, and is now trying to hammer out a joint venture with a government-owned corporation. He is said to be angling for President Rodrigo Duterte and Joko Widodo to “witness” the signing of the his planned JV at the Asean meeting.

Our government source says the businessman has been pressuring officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs to get them to include the signing as part of official activities. Apparently, he likes to remind everybody how the deal would make Digong look good before the international community.

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And what a photo-op that would make. Two heads of state approving what seems like a “win-win” deal for both countries. Boom! The businessman instantly regains legitimacy and influence, and his proposed projects gain importance and prominence. That’s the plan, at least.

Well, judging from his past business dealings and his current woes, he needs all the leverage he can get.

He is, after all, accused by his former partners of stealing funds. The JV partner, one of the country’s most prominent corporations, has filed syndicated estafa and qualified theft cases against him and a number of his supposed cohorts, for stealing money from the company.

The businessman is said to have serious money problems. In fact, his stake in said joint venture has already been diluted significantly, because he could not settle his liabilities.

He’s also known to push for ambitious, billion-dollar projects in his home country, although but nobody knows how he plans to execute on them. His company’s capitalization doesn’t add up.

And now, he’s eyeing new projects in the Philippines. With his reputation and money and legal woes, one wonders how he can muster the financing for these projects.

OK, people. You’ve been warned. —DAXIM L. LUCAS

Cable TV standoff, redux

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ABS-CBN doesn’t buy Solar’s line regarding their cable TV channel dispute. According to the camp of the Lopez family-owned firm, ABS-CBN has not been remiss in paying the licensing fees to the NBA, which include the carriage on SkyCable since it entered into an agreement with Solar as a co-licensee for the airing of NBA programs in 2014.

And just like its subscribers, SkyCable was caught by surprise when Solar pulled out the feed of Basketball TV and NBA Premium TV during the Holy Week.

ABS-CBN and SkyCable had been in the middle of discussions with Solar on its demand for payment for its carriage of NBA games when it happened, according to the pro-ABS-CBN grapevine.

Solar, they allege, timed the cable channel disruption for when subscribers were looking forward to watching the NBA Playoffs.

And, they added, when SkyCable asked Solar for an explanation or basis for the alleged unpaid carriage fees, Solar did not provide any answer.

Instead, the Tieng family’s company unilaterally pulled out their basketball channels.

The SkyCable camp also says it never offered Solar any amount to settle the issue.

But here’s the plot twist: Contrary to Solar’s claims, SkyCable believes that it is actually the former that has significant outstanding debts in the millions of pesos to the latter for the other Solar channels, which are carried by the cable TV service provider.

And despite being portrayed as the bad guy in the issue, SkyCable’s guys say they continue to reach out and remains open to come to terms with their “valuable partner” with the best interest of subscribers in mind. —DAXIM L. LUCAS

Busting cybercriminals

We’ve heard horror stories about bank clients victimized by ATM skimming. What’s even scarier is the act of “jackpotting” where cybercriminals hack into the ATM software and order the machine to dispense cash—just like winning in a slot machine.

While skimmers must go through the trouble of replicating card credentials and deal with withdrawal limits, jackpotting is a higher yielding act for cybercriminals and can’t easily be addressed by the shift to EMV chips.

But the banks are fighting back against cybercriminals. Recently, Ayala-led Bank of the Philippine Islands prosecuted and achieved conviction on a skimming case. This is the first for a bank under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. The conviction was made by the Makati Regional Trial Court (which has a cybercrime court) in a record time of three months.

What BPI and authorities have busted was a syndicate of Eastern Europeans involved in skimming and ATM jackpotting. Five of these expat cybercriminals had been arrested and one, a Romanian, had been convicted and sentenced to jail for 20 or so years and slapped a fine of close to P1 million, BPI executive vice president Ramon Jocson said in a press chat. Court trials against the other four are still ongoing.

But many other skimmers, mostly foreigners, have gone scot-free due to weaknesses in the local penalty system. At present, anybody arrested for ATM skimming can post a bail of P15,000. If they are foreigners and there’s no coordination with immigration authorities, then it’s easy for them to slip out of the country and set up business elsewhere.

As such, Jocson said BPI had submitted a position paper to modernize and put in place stiffer penalties against cybercriminals. “The issue is that the fines and bail are not commensurate to the crime,” he said. A typical ATM contains around P4 million in cash, so a P15,000 bail will just be peanuts for a cybercriminal.

Jocson said BPI is working with the cybercrime groups of the Philippine National Police and National Bureau of Investigation to “sharpen the way we do forensics and investigation for cybercrime.” Recently, authorities have likewise arrested people involved in “phishing” or fooling people into disclosing personal information that can be used to access their bank accounts.

As cybercriminals become more innovative in this day and age, Jocson said it was imperative for banks to fortify their systems. He said clients must be made more aware of how they should protect their personal information. So even if banks don’t solicit information via e-mail or text or web links, some people still fall prey to phishing.

“We are also working on awareness campaigns on how to better transact with the bank and safeguard information.”

“Currently, most of what we see is because clients are very liberal with the info they share whether through Facebook, Twitter or the like, most crimes are being initiated through social reengineering. So, we’re working with clients to help them and make them aware of how to better navigate social media and not to share information liberally.” —DORIS DUMLAO-ABADILLA

Sugar conundrum

Are sugar plantation owners in the Philippines barking up the wrong tree? Is there a David-and-Goliath situation where the sugarcane farmers or even plantation owners are pitted against a giant multinational company? Is there more to this than meets the eye?

According to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, The Philippines 2016 Oxford Business Group—and contrary to what is being locally reported—the availability of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not causing the drop in the price of sugar.

Upon closer investigation, even with the importation of HFCS, the demand for sugar increases year after year. In fact, local supply of sugar is tightening due to growing demand and the price of local sugar remains significantly higher than world market prices. Domestic sugar pricing is largely independent of world market price movements. Even with the recent rally of commodity prices globally, Philippine sugar still commands a 30-percent premium over world market prices.

According to the Sugar Regulatory Authority, local raw sugar prices become more elevated during El Niño years, and following the last El Niño pattern in 2010, domestic raw sugar prices corrected by 29 percent. From 2015 to 2017, the SRA also reported a pattern of escalated prices, followed by a subsequent market price correction. Area and sugar yields have likewise been declining since 2012, contributing to the inadequate supply for domestic use, hence the high prices.

If this is indeed the case, then why is Philippine sugar more expensive? The answer may lie in the lack of new investment in technology by many of the country’s sugar plantation owners to improve their farming practices. Other sugar producing countries are using the latest technology to increase their yields and improve sugar quality. This could be the biggest reason why Philippine sugar remains at least 30-percent more expensive than imported sugar.

As it is, the sweetened beverage industry is already the biggest buyer of local sugar, and yet it is still being pressured into buying even more. At the end of the day, it is still a business and that pricing plays a major factor.

The government is doing its fair share of protecting the industry, as a whole. Maybe it’s high time plantation owners improve the quality of their products to make them more globally competitive. —DAXIM L. LUCAS

Daiwa in COL

The country’s leading online stock brokerage has taken in a leading Japanese investment bank as a strategic investor.

Several existing shareholders and directors of publicly listed COL Financial Group Inc. have agreed to sell a 14.9-percent stake in the online stock brokerage to Daiwa Securities Group Inc. The transaction prompted COL to seek a trading suspension yesterday.

Does this mean that beyond retail investors, high-networth individuals and its mutual fund business, COL may go after the institutional market as well?

From what we hear, Daiwa’s buy-in deal is purely an opportunity for the Japanese group to “invest in a fast-growing under-penetrated market” through COL. Daiwa must have been sniffing around for investing opportunities for some time as its country representative attended COL’s recent stockholders meeting.

The acquisition—which is expected to be priced at a premium to market—will be executed through the facilities of the exchange today. —DORIS DUMLAO-ABADILLA

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TAGS: ABS-CBN, Asean Summit, ATM skimming, COL Financial Group Inc., cybercriminals, Indonesian businessman, SkyCable
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