Category Archives: Banking

Think Wells Fargo is Corrupt? A Suit Claims Another Big Bank is Worse

Wells Fargo has been in the news for allegedly doing all sorts of bad things to consumers.  One thing Wells hasn’t done is collect payments on loans that were owned by someone else.  Then, tell federal regulators that they are forgiving the loans they have sold to get federal credit under the huge federal mortgage settlement.  Supposedly, Chase hired to company with ties to the Church of Scientology to prepare releases on thousands of loans Chase no longer owned to get the federal credit.  A suit against Chase claims that is what the country’s largest bank did, allegedly with the CEO’s full knowledge.  It sounds too bizarre to be real but 21 companies who bought defaulted mortgages from Chase say that is what happened.  Consumers have been caught in the middle with Chase sending them notices that their loans were paid in full and the companies who say they bought the loans from Chase telling them they still owe the money.


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Special Investigation: How America’s Biggest Bank Paid Its Fine for the 2008 Mortgage Crisis—With Phony Mortgages!

Alleged fraud put JPMorgan Chase hundreds of millions of dollars ahead; ordinary homeowners, not so much.

You know the old joke: How do you make a killing on Wall Street and never risk a loss? Easy—use other people’s money. Jamie Dimon and his underlings at JPMorgan Chase have perfected this dark art at America’s largest bank, which boasts a balance sheet one-eighth the size of the entire US economy.

After JPMorgan’s deceitful activities in the housing market helped trigger the 2008 financial crash that cost millions of Americans their jobs, homes, and life savings, punishment was in order. Among a vast array of misconduct, JPMorgan engaged in the routine use of “robo-signing,” which allowed bank employees to automatically sign hundreds, even thousands, of foreclosure documents per day without verifying their contents. But in the United States, white-collar criminals rarely go to prison; instead, they negotiate settlements. Thus, on February 9, 2012, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the National Mortgage Settlement, which fined JPMorgan Chase and four other mega-banks a total of $25 billion.

JPMorgan’s share of the settlement was $5.3 billion, but only $1.1 billion had to be paid in cash; the other $4.2 billion was to come in the form of financial relief for homeowners in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure. The settlement called for JPMorgan to reduce the amounts owed, modify the loan terms, and take other steps to help distressed Americans keep their homes. A separate 2013 settlement against the bank for deceiving mortgage investors included another $4 billion in consumer relief.

A Nation investigation can now reveal how JPMorgan met part of its $8.2 billion settlement burden: by using other people’s money.

Here’s how the alleged scam worked. JPMorgan moved to forgive the mortgages of tens of thousands of homeowners; the feds, in turn, credited these canceled loans against the penalties due under the 2012 and 2013 settlements. But here’s the rub: In many instances, JPMorgan was forgiving loans it no longer owned.

The alleged fraud is described in internal JPMorgan documents, public records, testimony from homeowners and investors burned in the scam, and other evidence presented in a blockbuster lawsuit against JPMorgan, now being heard in US District Court in New York City.

JPMorgan no longer owned the loans because it had sold the mortgages years earlier to 21 third-party investors, including three companies owned by Larry Schneider. Those companies are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit; Schneider is also aiding the federal government in a related case against the bank. In a bizarre twist, a company associated with the Church of Scientology facilitated the apparent scheme. Nationwide Title Clearing, a document-processing company with close ties to the church, produced and filed the documents that JPMorgan needed to claim ownership and cancel the loans.

“If the allegations are true, JPMorgan screwed everybody.” —former congressman Brad Miller

JPMorgan, it appears, was running an elaborate shell game. In the depths of the financial collapse, the bank had unloaded tens of thousands of toxic loans when they were worth next to nothing. Then, when it needed to provide customer relief under the settlements, the bank had paperwork created asserting that it still owned the loans. In the process, homeowners were exploited, investors were defrauded, and communities were left to battle the blight caused by abandoned properties. JPMorgan, however, came out hundreds of millions of dollars ahead, thanks to using other people’s money.

“If the allegations are true, JPMorgan screwed everybody,” says Brad Miller, a former Democratic congressman from North Carolina who was among the strongest advocates of financial reform on Capitol Hill until his retirement in 2013.

In an unusual departure from most allegations of financial bad behavior, there is strong evidence that Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s CEO and chairman, knew about and helped to implement the mass loan-forgiveness project. In two separate meetings in 2013 and 2014, JPMorgan employees working on the project were specifically instructed not to release mortgages in Detroit under orders from Dimon himself, according to internal bank communications. In an apparent public-relations ploy, JPMorgan was about to invest $100 million in Detroit’s revival. Dimon’s order to delay forgiving the mortgages in Detroit appears to have been motivated by a fear of reputational risk. An internal JPMorgan report warned that hard-hit cities might take issue with bulk loan forgiveness, which would deprive municipal governments of property taxes on abandoned properties while further destabilizing the housing market.

Did Dimon also know that JPMorgan, as part of its mass loan-forgiveness project, was forgiving loans it no longer owned? No internal bank documents confirming that knowledge have yet surfaced, but Dimon routinely takes legal responsibility for knowing about his bank’s actions. Like every financial CEO in the country, Dimon is obligated by law to sign a document every year attesting to his knowledge of and responsibility for his bank’s operations. The law establishes punishments of $1 million in fines and imprisonment of up to 10 years for knowingly making false certifications.

Dimon signed the required document for each of the years that the mass loan-forgiveness project was in operation, from 2012 through 2016. Whether or not he knew that his employees were forgiving loans the bank no longer owned, his signatures on those documents make him potentially legally responsible.

The JPMorgan press office declined to make Dimon available for an interview or to comment for this article. Nationwide Title Clearing declined to comment on the specifics of the case but said that it is “methodical in the validity and legality of the documents” it produces.

Federal appointees have been complicit in this as well. E-mails show that the Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight, charged by the government with ensuring the banks’ compliance with the two federal settlements, gave JPMorgan the green light to mass-forgive its loans. This served two purposes for the bank: It could take settlement credit for forgiving the loans, and it could also hide these loans—which JPMorgan had allegedly been handling improperly—from the settlements’ testing regimes.

“No one in Washington seems to understand why Americans think that different rules apply to Wall Street, and why they’re so mad about that,” said former congressman Miller. “This is why.”

Lauren and Robert Warwick were two of the shell game’s many victims. The Warwicks live in Odenton, Maryland, a bedroom community halfway between Baltimore and Washington, DC, and had taken out a second mortgage on their home with JPMorgan’s Chase Home Finance division. In 2008, after the housing bubble burst and the Great Recession started, 3.6 million Americans lost their jobs; Lauren Warwick was one of them.

Before long, the Warwicks had virtually no income. While Lauren looked for work, Robert was in the early stages of starting a landscaping business. But the going was slow, and the Warwicks fell behind on their mortgage payments. They tried to set up a modified payment plan, to no avail: Chase demanded payment in full and warned that foreclosure loomed. “They were horrible,” Lauren Warwick told The Nation. “I had one [Chase representative] say, ‘Sell the damn house—that’s all you can do.’”

Then, one day, the hounding stopped. In October 2009, the Warwicks received a letter from 1st Fidelity Loan Services, welcoming them as new customers. The letter explained that 1st Fidelity had purchased the Warwicks’ mortgage from Chase, and that they should henceforth be making an adjusted mortgage payment to this new owner.

The alleged shell game put JPMorgan hundreds of millions of dollars ahead—with federal permission.

Lauren Warwick had never heard of 1st Fidelity, but the letter made her more relieved than suspicious. “I’m thinking, ‘They’re not taking my house, and they’re not hounding me,’” she said.

Larry Schneider, 49, is the founder and president of 1st Fidelity and two other mortgage companies. He has worked in Florida’s real-estate business for 25 years, getting his start in Miami. In 2003, Schneider hit upon a business model: If he bought distressed mortgages at a significant discount, he could afford to offer the borrowers reduced mortgage payments. It was a win-win-win: Borrowers remained in their homes, communities were stabilized, and Schneider still made money.

“I was in a position where I could do what banks didn’t want to,” Schneider says. In fact, his business model resembled what President Franklin Roosevelt did in the 1930s with the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, which prevented nearly 1 million foreclosures while turning a small profit. More to the point, Schneider’s model exemplified how the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama could have handled the foreclosure crisis if they’d been more committed to helping Main Street rather than Wall Street.

The Warwicks’ loan was one of more than 1,000 that Schneider purchased without incident from JPMorgan’s Chase Home Finance division starting in 2003. In 2009, the bank offered Schneider a package deal: 3,529 primary mortgages (known as “first liens”) on which payments had been delinquent for over 180 days. Most of the properties were located in areas where the crisis hit hardest, such as Baltimore.

Selling distressed properties to companies like Schneider’s was part of JPMorgan’s strategy for limiting its losses after the housing bubble collapsed. The bank owned hundreds of thousands of mortgages that had little likelihood of being repaid. These mortgages likely carried ongoing costs: paying property taxes, addressing municipal-code violations, even mowing the lawn. Many also had legal defects and improper terms; if federal regulators ever scrutinized these loans, the bank would be in jeopardy.

In short, the troubled mortgages were the financial equivalent of toxic waste. To deal with them, Chase Home Finance created a financial toxic-waste dump: The mortgages were listed in an internal database called RCV1, where RCV stood for “Recovery.”

Unbeknownst to Schneider, the package deal that Chase offered him came entirely from this toxic-waste dump. Because he’d had a good relationship with Chase up to that point, Schneider took the deal. On February 25, 2009, he signed an agreement to buy the loans, valued at $156 million, for only $200,000—slightly more than one-tenth of a penny on the dollar. But the agreement turned sour fast, Schneider says.

Among a range of irregularities, perhaps the most egregious was that Chase never provided him with all the documentation proving ownership of the loans in question. The data that Schneider did receive lacked critical information, such as borrower names, addresses of the properties, even the payment histories or amounts due. This made it impossible for him to work with the borrowers to modify their terms and help them stay in their homes. Every time Schneider asked Chase about the full documentation, he was told it was coming. It never arrived.

As CEO, Jamie Dimon is potentially legally responsible for JPMorgan’s apparently phony mortgages.

Here’s the kicker: JPMorgan was still collecting payments on some of these loans and even admitted this fact to Schneider. In December 2009, a Chase Home Finance employee named Launi Solomon sent Schneider a list of at least $47,695.53 in payments on his loans that the borrowers had paid to Chase. But 10 days later, Solomon wrote that these payments would not be transferred to Schneider because of an internal accounting practice that was “not reversible.” On another loan sold to Schneider, Chase had taken out insurance against default; when the homeowner did in fact default, Chase pocketed the $250,000 payout rather than forward it to Schneider, according to internal documents.

Chase even had a third-party debt collector named Real Time Resolutions solicit Schneider’s homeowners, seeking payments on behalf of Chase. In one such letter from 2013, Real Time informed homeowner Maureen Preis, of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, that “our records indicate Chase continues to hold a lien on the above referenced property,” even though Chase explicitly confirmed to Schneider that it had sold him the loan in 2010.

JPMorgan jumped in and out of claiming mortgage ownership, Schneider asserts, based on whatever was best for the bank. “If a payment comes in, it’s theirs,” he says; “if there’s a code-enforcement issue, it’s mine.”

The shell game entered a new, more far-reaching phase after JPMorgan agreed to its federal settlements. Now the bank was obligated to provide consumer relief worth $8.2 billion—serious money even for JPMorgan. The solution? Return to the toxic-waste dump.

Because JPMorgan had stalled Schneider on turning over the complete paperwork proving ownership, it took the chance that it could still claim credit for forgiving the loans that he now owned. Plus the settlements required JPMorgan to show the government that it was complying with all federal regulations for mortgages. The RCV1 loans didn’t seem to meet those standards, but forgiving them would enable the bank to hide this fact.

The Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight gave Chase Home Finance explicit permission to implement this strategy. “Your business people can be relieved from pushing forward” on presenting RCV1 loans for review, lawyer Martha Svoboda wrote in an e-mail to Chase, as long as the loans were canceled.

Chase dubbed this the “pre DOJ Lien Release Project.” (To release a lien means to forgive the loan and relinquish any ownership right to the property in question.) The title page of an internal report on the project lists Lisa Shepherd, vice president of property preservation, and Steve Hemperly, head of mortgage originations, as the executives in charge. The bank hired Nationwide Title Clearing, the company associated with the Church of Scientology, to file the lien releases with county offices. Erika Lance, an employee of Nationwide, is listed as the preparer on 25 of these lien releases seen by The Nation. Ironically, Schneider alleges, the releases were in effect “robo-signed,” since the employees failed to verify that JPMorgan Chase owned the loans. If Schneider is right, it means that JPMorgan relied on the same fraudulent “robo-signing” process that had previously gotten the bank fined by the government to help it evade that penalty.

On September 13, 2012, Chase Home Finance mailed 33,456 forgiveness letters informing borrowers of the debt cancellation. Schneider immediately started hearing from people who said that they wouldn’t be making further payments to him because Chase had forgiven the loan. Some even sued Schneider for illegally charging them for mortgages that he (supposedly) didn’t own.

When Lauren and Robert Warwick got their forgiveness letter from Chase, Lauren almost passed out. “You will owe nothing more on the loan and your debt with be cancelled,” the letter stated, calling this “a result of a recent mortgage servicing settlement reached with the states and federal government.” But for the past three years, the Warwicks had been paying 1st Fidelity Loan Servicing—not Chase. Lauren said she called 1st Fidelity, only to be told: “Sorry, no, I don’t care what they said to you—you owe us the money.”

JPMorgan’s shell game unraveled because Lauren Warwick’s neighbor worked for Michael Busch, the speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. After reviewing the Warwicks’ documents, Kristin Jones, Busch’s chief of staff, outlined her suspicions to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. “I’m afraid based on the notification of loan transfer that Chase sold [the Warwicks’] loan some years ago,” Jones wrote. “I question whether Chase is somehow getting credit for a write-off they never actually have to honor.”

After Schneider and various borrowers demanded answers, Chase checked a sample of over 500 forgiveness letters. It found that 108 of the 500 loans—more than one out of five—no longer belonged to the bank. Chase told the Warwicks that their forgiveness letter had been sent in error. Eventually, Chase bought back the Warwicks’ loan from Schneider, along with 12 others, and honored the promised loan forgiveness.

Not everyone was as lucky as the Warwicks. In letters signed by vice president Patrick Boyle, JPMorgan Chase forgave at least 49,355 mortgages in three separate increments. The bank also forgave additional mortgages, but the exact number is unknown because the bank stopped sending homeowners notification letters. Nor is it known how many of these forgiven mortgages didn’t actually belong to JPMorgan; the bank refused The Nation’s request for clarification. Through title searches and the discovery process, Schneider ascertained that the bank forgave 607 loans that belonged to one of his three companies. The lien-release project overall allowed JPMorgan to take hundreds of millions of dollars in settlement credit.

Most of the loans that JPMorgan released—and received settlement credit for—were all but worthless. Homeowners had abandoned the homes years earlier, expecting JPMorgan to foreclose, only to have the bank forgive the loan after the fact. That forgiveness transferred responsibility for paying back taxes and making repairs back to the homeowner. It was like a recurring horror story in which “zombie foreclosures” were resurrected from the dead to wreak havoc on people’s financial lives.

Federal officials knew about the problems and did nothing. In July 2014, the City of Milwaukee wrote to Joseph Smith, the federal oversight monitor, alerting him that “thousands of homeowners” were engulfed in legal nightmares because of the confusion that banks had sown about who really owned their mortgages. In a deposition for the lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase, Smith admitted that he did not recall responding to the City of Milwaukee’s letter.

If you pay taxes in a municipality where JPMorgan spun its trickery, you helped pick up the tab. The bank’s shell game prevented municipalities from knowing who actually owned distressed properties and could be held legally liable for maintaining them and paying property taxes. As a result, abandoned properties deteriorated further, spreading urban blight and impeding economic recovery. “Who’s going to pay for the demolition [of abandoned buildings] or [the necessary extra] police presence?” asks Brent Tantillo, Schneider’s lawyer. “As a taxpayer, it’s you.”

Such economic fallout may help explain why Jamie Dimon directed that JPMorgan’s mass forgiveness of loans exempt Detroit, a city where JPMorgan has a long history. The bank’s predecessor, the National Bank of Detroit, has been a fixture in the city for over 80 years; its relationships with General Motors and Ford go back to the 1930s. And JPMorgan employees knew perfectly well that mass loan forgiveness might create difficulties. The 2012 internal report warned that cities might react negatively to the sheer number of forgiven loans, which would lower tax revenues while adding costs. Noting that some of the cities in question were clients of JPMorgan Chase, the report warned that the project posed a risk to the bank’s reputation.

Reputational risk was the exact opposite of what JPMorgan hoped to achieve in Detroit. So the bank decided to delay the mass forgiveness of loans in Detroit and surrounding Wayne County until after the $100 million investment was announced. Dimon himself ordered the delay, according to the minutes of JPMorgan Chase meetings that cite the bank’s chairman and CEO by name. Dimon then went to Detroit to announce the investment on May 21, 2014, reaping positive coverage from The New York Times, USA Today, and other local and national news outlets. Since June 1, 2014, JPMorgan has released 10,229 liens in Wayne County, according to public records; the bank declined to state how many of these were part of the lien-release project.

Both of Larry Schneider’s lawsuits alleging fraud on JPMorgan Chase’s part remain active in federal courts. The Justice Department could also still file charges against JPMorgan, Jamie Dimon, or both, because Schneider’s case was excluded from the federal settlement agreements.

Few would expect Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department to pursue such a case, but what this sorry episode most highlights is the pathetic disciplining of Wall Street during the Obama administration.

JPMorgan’s litany of acknowledged criminal abuses over the past decade reads like a rap sheet, extending well beyond mortgage fraud to encompass practically every part of the bank’s business. But instead of holding JPMorgan’s executives responsible for what looks like a criminal racket, Obama’s Justice Department negotiated weak settlement after weak settlement. Adding insult to injury, JPMorgan then wriggled out of paying its full penalties by using other people’s money.

The larger lessons here command special attention in the Trump era. Negotiating weak settlements that don’t force mega-banks to even pay their fines, much less put executives in prison, turns the concept of accountability into a mirthless farce. Telegraphing to executives that they will emerge unscathed after committing crimes not only invites further crimes; it makes another financial crisis more likely. The widespread belief that the United States has a two-tiered system of justice—that the game is rigged for the rich and the powerful—also enabled the rise of Trump. We cannot expect Americans to trust a system that lets Wall Street fraudsters roam free while millions of hard-working taxpayers get the shaft.

By David Dayen | The Nation

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Century of Enslavement: The History of The Federal Reserve (video)

What is the Federal Reserve system? How did it come into existence? Is it part of the federal government? How does it create money? Why is the public kept in the dark about these important matters? In this feature-length documentary film, The Corbett Report explores these important question and pulls back the curtain on America’s central bank.

Suddenly, “De-Dollarization” Is A Thing

For what seems like decades, other countries have been tiptoeing away from their dependence on the US dollar.

China, Russia, and India have cut deals in which they agree to accept each others’ currencies for bi-lateral trade while Europe, obviously, designed the euro to be a reserve asset and international medium of exchange.

These were challenges to the dollar’s dominance, but they weren’t mortal threats.

What’s happening lately, however, is a lot more serious.

It even has an ominous-sounding name: de-dollarization. Here’s an excerpt from a much longer article by “strategic risk consultant” F. William Engdahl:

Gold, Oil and De-Dollarization? Russia and China’s Extensive Gold Reserves, China Yuan Oil Market

(Global Research) – China, increasingly backed by Russia—the two great Eurasian nations—are taking decisive steps to create a very viable alternative to the tyranny of the US dollar over world trade and finance. Wall Street and Washington are not amused, but they are powerless to stop it.

So long as Washington dirty tricks and Wall Street machinations were able to create a crisis such as they did in the Eurozone in 2010 through Greece, world trading surplus countries like China, Japan and then Russia, had no practical alternative but to buy more US Government debt—Treasury securities—with the bulk of their surplus trade dollars. Washington and Wall Street could print endless volumes of dollars backed by nothing more valuable than F-16s and Abrams tanks. China, Russia and other dollar bond holders in truth financed the US wars that were aimed at them, by buying US debt. Then they had few viable alternative options.

Viable Alternative Emerges

Now, ironically, two of the foreign economies that allowed the dollar an artificial life extension beyond 1989—Russia and China—are carefully unveiling that most feared alternative, a viable, gold-backed international currency and potentially, several similar currencies that can displace the unjust hegemonic role of the dollar today.

For several years both the Russian Federation and the Peoples’ Republic of China have been buying huge volumes of gold, largely to add to their central bank currency reserves which otherwise are typically in dollars or euro currencies. Until recently it was not clear quite why.

For several years it’s been known in gold markets that the largest buyers of physical gold were the central banks of China and of Russia. What was not so clear was how deep a strategy they had beyond simply creating trust in the currencies amid increasing economic sanctions and bellicose words of trade war out of Washington.

Now it’s clear why.

China and Russia, joined most likely by their major trading partner countries in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), as well as by their Eurasian partner countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) are about to complete the working architecture of a new monetary alternative to a dollar world.

Currently, in addition to founding members China and Russia, the SCO full members include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and most recently India and Pakistan. This is a population of well over 3 billion people, some 42% of the entire world population, coming together in a coherent, planned, peaceful economic and political cooperation.

Gold-Backed Silk Road

It’s clear that the economic diplomacy of China, as of Russia and her Eurasian Economic Union group of countries, is very much about realization of advanced high-speed rail, ports, energy infrastructure weaving together a vast new market that, within less than a decade at present pace, will overshadow any economic potentials in the debt-bloated economically stagnant OECD countries of the EU and North America.

What until now was vitally needed, but not clear, was a strategy to get the nations of Eurasia free from the dollar and from their vulnerability to further US Treasury sanctions and financial warfare based on their dollar dependence. This is now about to happen.

At the September 5 annual BRICS Summit in Xiamen, China, Russian President Putin made a simple and very clear statement of the Russian view of the present economic world. He stated, “Russia shares the BRICS countries’ concerns over the unfairness of the global financial and economic architecture, which does not give due regard to the growing weight of the emerging economies. We are ready to work together with our partners to promote international financial regulation reforms and to overcome the excessive domination of the limited number of reserve currencies.”

To my knowledge he has never been so explicit about currencies. Put this in context of the latest financial architecture unveiled by Beijing, and it becomes clear the world is about to enjoy new degrees of economic freedom.

China Yuan Oil Futures

According to a report in the Japan Nikkei Asian Review, China is about to launch a crude oil futures contract denominated in Chinese yuan that will be convertible into gold. This, when coupled with other moves over the past two years by China to become a viable alternative to London and New York to Shanghai, becomes really interesting.

China is the world’s largest importer of oil, the vast majority of it still paid in US dollars. If the new Yuan oil futures contract gains wide acceptance, it could become the most important Asia-based crude oil benchmark, given that China is the world’s biggest oil importer. That would challenge the two Wall Street-dominated oil benchmark contracts in North Sea Brent and West Texas Intermediate oil futures that until now has given Wall Street huge hidden advantages.

That would be one more huge manipulation lever eliminated by China and its oil partners, including very specially Russia. Introduction of an oil futures contract traded in Shanghai in Yuan, which recently gained membership in the select IMF SDR group of currencies, oil futures especially when convertible into gold, could change the geopolitical balance of power dramatically away from the Atlantic world to Eurasia.

In April 2016 China made a major move to become the new center for gold exchange and the world center of gold trade, physical gold. China today is the world’s largest gold producer, far ahead of fellow BRICS member South Africa, with Russia number two.

Now to add the new oil futures contract traded in China in Yuan with the gold backing will lead to a dramatic shift by key OPEC members, even in the Middle East, to prefer gold-backed Yuan for their oil over inflated US dollars that carry a geopolitical risk as Qatar experienced following the Trump visit to Riyadh some months ago. Notably, Russian state oil giant, Rosneft just announced that Chinese state oil company, CEFC China Energy Company Ltd. Just bought a 14% share of Rosneft from Qatar. It’s all beginning to fit together into a very coherent strategy.

Meanwhile, in Latin America:

De-Dollarization Spikes – Venezuela Stops Accepting Dollars For Oil Payments

(Zero Hedge) – Did the doomsday clock on the petrodollar (and implicitly US hegemony) just tick one more minute closer to midnight?

Apparently confirming what President Maduro had warned following the recent US sanctions, The Wall Street Journal reports that Venezuela has officially stopped accepting US Dollars as payment for its crude oil exports.

As we previously noted, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said last Thursday that Venezuela will be looking to “free” itself from the U.S. dollar next week. According to Reuters, “Venezuela is going to implement a new system of international payments and will create a basket of currencies to free us from the dollar,” Maduro said in a multi-hour address to a new legislative “superbody.” He reportedly did not provide details of this new proposal.

Maduro hinted further that the South American country would look to using the yuan instead, among other currencies.

“If they pursue us with the dollar, we’ll use the Russian ruble, the yuan, yen, the Indian rupee, the euro,” Maduro also said.

The state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA, known as PdVSA, has told its private joint venture partners to open accounts in euros and to convert existing cash holdings into Europe’s main currency, said one project partner.

This first step towards one or more gold-backed Eurasian currencies certainly looks like a viable and — for a lot of big players out there — welcome addition to the global money stock.

Venezuela, meanwhile illustrates the growing perception of US weakness. It used to be that a small country refusing to take dollars could expect regime change in short order. Now, maybe not so much.

Combine the above with the emergence of bitcoin and its kin as the preferred monetary asset of techies and libertarians, and the monetary world suddenly looks downright multi-polar.

By John Rubino via ZeroHedge

Venezuela Just Stopped Accepting US Dollars for Oil As Countries Join Forces to Kill US Petrodollar

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In what is the latest move to undermine the imperial world order maintained by the United States, which is underpinned through use of the petrodollar as the world reserve currency, the Wall Street Journal reports that Venezuelan President Maduro has officially followed through on his threat to stop accepting US Dollars as payment for crude oil exports in the wake of recent US sanctions.

Last Thursday, President Nicolas Maduro said that if the US went ahead with the sanction, Venezuela would “free” itself from the US Dollar.

According to Reuters:

“Venezuela is going to implement a new system of international payments and will create a basket of currencies to free us from the dollar,” Maduro said in a multi-hour address to a new legislative “superbody.”

Unsurprisingly, Maduro noted that his country would look to the BRICS countries, and begin using the Chinese yuan and Russian ruble instead — along with other currencies — to bypass the US Dollar stranglehold.

Rather than work diplomatically with other nations, the United States often uses sanctions to force compliance. Due to the dollar being accepted as the world’s reserve currency, almost all financial transactions are denominated in dollars. This phenomenon gives the US a powerful weapon to wield against states that refuse to follow US directives, and underpins the unipolar model of global domination exercised by the US.

Interestingly, the decision by Venezuela – the nation with the world’s largest proven oil reserves – comes just days after China and Russia unveiled an Oil/Yuan/Gold plan at the recent annual BRICS conference. This plan would strongly undermine the hegemonic control the US enjoys over the global financial system.

During the BRICS conference, Putin unveiled a geopolitical/geoeconomic bombshell as he forwarded the notion of a “fair multipolar world.” He emphasized a stance “against protectionism and new barriers in global trade” — a reference to the manner in which US operates its empire to maintain primacy.

 

Russia shares the BRICS countries’ concerns over the unfairness of the global financial and economic architecture, which does not give due regard to the growing weight of the emerging economies. We are ready to work together with our partners to promote international financial regulation reforms and to overcome the excessive domination of the limited number of reserve currencies.

“To overcome the excessive domination of the limited number of reserve currencies” is simply a nice way of saying that the BRICS will create a system to bypass the US dollar, as well as the petrodollar, in an effort to undermine the unipolar paradigm embraced by the United States.

As we previously reported, China will soon launch a crude oil futures contract priced in yuan that is fully convertible into gold.

What this means is that countries who refuse to bend to the imperial will of the United States, i.e. Russia, Iran, etc., will now be able to bypass US sanctions by making energy trades in their own currencies, or in Chinese yuan – with the knowledge that they can convert the yuan into gold as added incentive/insurance/security.

The yuan will be fully convertible into gold on both the Shanghai and Hong Kong exchanges. Typically, crude oil is priced in relation to Brent or West Texas Intermediate futures, both denominated in U.S. dollars.

“The rules of the global oil game may begin to change enormously,” said Luke Gromen, founder of U.S.-based macroeconomic research company FFTT.

This new paradigm of oil, yuan, and gold is, without question, an international game changer. The key takeaway here is that the US dollar can now be bypassed without so much as a second thought.

Russia and China – via the Russian Central Bank and the People’s Bank of China – have been steadily working on ruble-yuan swaps as a means of hedging against US hegemony.

There is a strategic movement to take these actions beyond the BRICS, first allowing aspiring “BRICS Plus” members, then entire Global South to divest themselves from dependence on the US dollar.

Essentially, Russia and China are working together to usher in a new paradigm of Eurasian integration, something that goes directly against US strategic doctrine – which dictates that Russia and China, the United States’ two main geopolitical rivals, should never be allowed to dominate Eurasia.

“In 2014 Russia and China signed two mammoth 30-year contracts for Russian gas to China. The contracts specified that the exchange would be done in Renminbi [yuan] and Russian rubles, not in dollars. That was the beginning of an accelerating process of de-dollarization that is underway today,” according to strategic risk consultant F. William Engdahl.

Russia and China are now creating a new paradigm for the world economy and paving the way for a global de-dollarization, and Venezuela is just the beginning.

“A Russian-Chinese alternative to the dollar in the form of a gold-backed ruble and gold-backed Renminbi or yuan, could start a snowball exit from the US dollar, and with it, a severe decline in America’s ability to use the reserve dollar role to finance her wars with other peoples’ money,” Engdahl concludes.

Make no mistake that the BRICS are not only working to integrate Eurasia, but to geo-economically integrate the entire Global South under a new multipolar framework that treats states as equals, regardless of their power stature globally.

The Neolibcons in Washington – bent on eventual regime change in Russia and China – are in for an extremely rude awakening. Although the BRICS have their own structural economic problems, they have created a long-term plan that will change the face of geopolitics/geo-economics and degrade the imperialist will of those that wish to dictate and order the world as they see fit.

The DC War Party’s petrodollar imperialism, which funds the US war machine and allows for a constant war footing, is quickly running out of allies to maintain its global hegemony.

Video Commentary:

By Jay Syrmopoulos | Activist Post

Global Banks Sabotage Uruguay’s Efforts to Legalize Marijuana

It’s hard to do business without banks.

The first country to fully legalize the recreational use of marijuana, Uruguay, has suddenly found itself facing an unexpected obstacle: the international banking industry.

It all began a few weeks ago when one of the 15 pharmacies that had agreed to sell the two varieties of cannabis distributed by the Uruguayan State announced that it was withdrawing from the scheme after its bank, Santander, had threatened to close its account unless it stopped providing services for the state-controlled sales. Shortly afterwards it was revealed that other banks, including Brazil’s Itaú, had canceled the accounts of the private companies that had been granted a license to produce marijuana as well as some cannabis clubs.

To fill the funding void, the state-owned lender Banco República (BROU) stepped up to provide financing to the 15 pharmacies involved in the scheme as well as producers and clubs. But within days it, too, was given a stark ultimatum, this time from two of Wall Street’s biggest hitters, Bank of America and Citi: Either it stops providing financing for Uruguay’s licensed marijuana producers and vendors or it’s dollar operations could be at risk — a very serious threat in a country where US dollars are used so widely that they can even be withdrawn from ATMs.

Under the US Patriot Act, handling money from marijuana is illegal and violates measures to control money laundering and terrorist acts. However, US regulators have made it clear that banks will not be prosecuted for providing services to businesses that are lawfully selling cannabis in states where pot has been legalized for recreational use. Some cannabis businesses have been able to set up accounts at credit unions, but major banks have shied away from the expanding industry, deciding that the burdens and risks of doing business with marijuana sellers are not worth the bother.

But that may not be their only motive. There are also the huge profits that can be reaped from laundering the proceeds of the global narcotics trade. According to Antonio María Costa, the former Under-Secretary of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, over $350 billion of funds from organized crime were processed by European and US banks in the wake of the global financial crisis.

“Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities… There were signs that some banks were rescued that way,” Costa said. To date, no European government or bank has publicly denied Costa’s charges. Meanwhile, numerous big banks on both sides of the Atlantic have been caught and fined, some repeatedly, for laundering billions of dollars of illicit drugs money — in direct contravention of the US anti-drugs legislation.

Whatever the banks’ real motives in denying funds to the Uruguayan pharmacies, the perverse irony, as the NY Times points out, is that applying US regulations intended to crack down on banks laundering the proceeds from the illegal sale of drugs to the current context in Uruguay is likely to encourage, not prevent, illicit drug sales:

Fighting drug trafficking was one of the main reasons the Uruguayan government gave for legalizing recreational marijuana. Officials spent years developing a complex regulatory framework that permits people to grow a limited supply of cannabis themselves or buy it at pharmacies for less than the black market rate. Lawmakers hoped that these legal structures would undercut illicit marijuana cultivation and sales.

“There probably isn’t a trade in Uruguay today that is more controlled than cannabis sale,” said Pablo Durán (a legal expert at the Center of Pharmacies in Uruguay, a trade group).

Despite that fact, the pressure continues to be brought to bear on Uruguay’s legal cannabis businesses. Banco República has already announced that it will close the accounts of the pharmacies that sell cannabis in order to safeguard its much more valuable dollar operations.

In other words, a state-owned bank of a sovereign nation just decided to put draconian US legislation before a law adopted by the Uruguayan parliament authorizing the sale and production of marijuana. The law’s prime sponsor, Uruguay’s former president, José Mujica, is furious. During a session of the country’s Senate, he accused the banks of directly attacking democracy. His successor, President Tabaré Vázquez, is far less enthused about the plans to legalize pot.

The potential implications of this issue extend far beyond Uruguay’s borders. For years opposition to the US-backed war on drugs has been building across Latin America. At the 2013 UN General Assembly Latin American leaders of all political stripes rose to the podium to take a stand against the war. They included Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla, Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina, Mexico’s then foreign minister (and now finance minister) José Antonio Meade.

Even Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, the United States’ staunchest ally in South America and third largest recipient of US military aid after Israel and Egypt, bemoaned that that his country, which received more than $3.5 billion in counter-narcotics aid between 2002 and 2011 and was frequently cited as a model by the Obama administration, “has suffered more deaths, more bloodshed, and more sacrifices in this war” than almost any other, with the obvious exception of Mexico.

By now it is painfully obvious, to all but those who financially benefit from it, that the US government’s heavily militarized War on Drugs has been a dismal failure. Despite the slaughter of over 150,000 people in Mexico in a war that no one is winning and just about everyone is losing, the drugs keep crossing the border, and in many cases in greater numbers than ever before.

Uruguay’s efforts to legalize marijuana could represent a sea change in drugs policy in a region that is being ripped asunder by the global narcotics trade. If successful, it could go viral as other countries, including Canada, set out to legalize marijuana. But if big global banks like Santander, Citi and Bank of America get their way, the scheme will be snuffed out before it even has a chance to make a difference.

By Don Quijones | Wolf Street

De-Dollarization Accelerates: China Readies Yuan-Priced Crude Oil Benchmark Backed By Gold

The world’s top oil importer, China, is preparing to launch a crude oil futures contract denominated in Chinese yuan and convertible into gold, potentially creating the most important Asian oil benchmark and allowing oil exporters to bypass U.S.-dollar denominated benchmarks by trading in yuan, Nikkei Asian Review reports.

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The crude oil futures will be the first commodity contract in China open to foreign investment funds, trading houses, and oil firms. The circumvention of U.S. dollar trade could allow oil exporters such as Russia and Iran, for example, to bypass U.S. sanctions by trading in yuan, according to Nikkei Asian Review.

To make the yuan-denominated contract more attractive, China plans the yuan to be fully convertible in gold on the Shanghai and Hong Kong exchanges.

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Last month, the Shanghai Futures Exchange and its subsidiary Shanghai International Energy Exchange, INE, successfully completed four tests in production environment for the crude oil futures, and the exchange continues with preparatory works for the listing of crude oil futures, aiming for the launch by the end of this year.

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Source: ZeroHedge

Rothschild Continues Movement Away From USD Capital Markets Exposure [video]

Jacob Rothschild has released a report detailing a huge change in assets switching significantly from US dollar capital markets to pounds and euros.  

In the report from Rothschild’s investment trust RITCAP he stated “We do not believe this is an appropriate time to add to risk” and that we are in a time when “ economic growth is by no means assured”

This video gives a detailed outline of some of the ramifications of what this could have for the US and global economy.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Rothschild continued the shift away from US capital markets exposure announced one year ago, noting that “we have a particular interest in investments which will benefit from the impact of new technologies, and Far Eastern markets, influenced by the growing demand from Asian consumers.” What is surprising is how aggressively Rothschild has cut its allocation to US-denominated assets in just the past 6 months.

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Not surprisingly, RIT’s investment portfolio continues do quite well, and has now returned over 2,200% since inception …

Below is a snapshot of where every hedge fund wants to end up: the Rothschild investment portfolio …

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Finally, for all those wondering where the Rothschild family fortune is hiding, here is the answer …

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Source: ZeroHedge