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Pack has previously insisted his personnel changes were a routine part of new leadership at a large organization.

A spokesperson for U.S. Agency for Global Media on Friday said Pack couldn’t attend due to a conflict with the original hearing date.

“Michael Pack is disappointed that the Committee has decided to escalate the situation,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Pack is eager to testify before the Committee to talk about the critical work of USAGM and to answer Members’ questions.”

Engel recently subpoenaed the State Department for documents connected to GOP Sen. Ron Johnson’s investigation of Joe Biden’s relationships in Ukraine, a probe that Democrats say is politically motivated and potentially tainted by Russian disinformation.

Engel is also probing Trump’s decision earlier this year to fire State Department inspector general Steve Linick.

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Why Amazon and Reliance are fighting for Future Retail in India

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Amazon (AMZN), the Seattle-based e-commerce firm owned by Jeff Bezos, is fighting a $3.3 billion deal struck between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and the Indian retail conglomerate Future Group.

What’s at stake is strategic access to a network of popular grocery stores and retail shops in India — something both Amazon and Reliance want to either have for themselves, or to prevent the other from acquiring.

“If someone backs down, it will give the impression that one has lost and the other has won, when the fight has just started,” said Counterpoint Research analyst Tarun Pathak.

Amazon has 31.2% market share in India’s e-commerce industry, just behind Walmart-owned Flipkart’s 31.9%, according to a recent report from market research firm Forrester. But Ambani has made no secret of his ambitions to upend the market with JioMart, which is part of his sprawling conglomerate.

At the heart of the current battle is Future Retail, the cash cow of Future Group. The retail unit includes brands like Big Bazaar, a well-known, popular hypermarket chain in India. In August 2019, Amazon invested in a Future Group entity that gave it a roughly 4.8% stake in Future Retail as of September 30 this year, according to stock exchange filings. The deal gave Amazon the right of first refusal to acquire more shares in Future Retail, according to one of the filings.

Then Covid-19 hit. India enforced one of the strictest nationwide lockdowns, ordering shops to shutter and millions of people to stay indoors for months.

The pandemic has had a “significant adverse impact” on Future Retail’s business operations, the company said in its most recent earnings report. In July, Future Retail’s credit rating took a hit after it missed a bond payment. Fitch Ratings downgraded Future Retail’s rating two notches to C, signaling that the company was “near default.”
The following month, Reliance and Future Group announced that Reliance was buying Future Retail and several other assets. The deal allowed Future Group to “achieve a holistic solution to the challenges that have been caused by Covid and the macro economic environment,” Kishore Biyani, Future Group CEO, said in a statement at the time.

A legal dispute

The announcement took industry watchers by surprise.

“Everyone knew Amazon had a stake in Future Retail, and the deal didn’t mention what would happen to Amazon’s stake,” said Satish Meena, analyst at research firm Forrester.

Amazon responded by filing a complaint to the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC).

Indian companies and foreign companies operating in India often agree to settle disputes in Singapore because “it’s a neutral jurisdiction with high integrity and international standards,” according to Ashish Kabra, a lawyer who heads the International Dispute Resolution & Investigations Practice for Nishith Desai Associates in Singapore.

The arbitration process is confidential and none of the submissions are public.

Amazon argued that the 2019 deal struck between it and the Future Group entity included a non-compete clause, a person familiar with Amazon’s perspective told CNN Business. The clause listed 30 restricted parties with which Future Retail and Future Group could not do business, and Reliance was on that list, the person said.

“The key question really is what’s the validity of contracts if you just ignore them,” said the person familiar with Amazon’s side.

“Are companies just going to ignore contracts and do what they please?”

A SIAC emergency arbitrator gave Amazon a small victory this week when it ordered a temporary halt on Future Group’s deal with Reliance, according to the legal order seen by Reuters, which has not been made public.

Future Group had argued that if the deal with Reliance falls through, its retail unit will be forced into liquidation and 29,000 people will lose their jobs, according to Reuters, which cited the Singapore order. The order is not public, but the person familiar with Amazon’s perspective confirmed that Future presented this argument.

But the arbitrator ruled that “economic hardship alone is not a legal ground for disregarding legal obligations,” according to the order, Reuters reported.

“We welcome the award of the Emergency Arbitrator. We are grateful for the order which grants all the reliefs that were sought,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

CNN Business contacted Future Group for comment, and received a statement from Future Retail.

Future Retail said it “is examining the communication and the order” from SIAC.

Reliance (RRVL) said in a statement that its deal with Future Retail is “fully enforceable” under Indian law.

“RRVL intends to enforce its rights and complete the transaction in terms of the scheme and agreement with Future group without any delay,” said the statement.

But in the past, Indian courts have usually followed the lead of orders passed by emergency arbitrators outside of India, according to Kabra, the lawyer.

“What parties have previously done, is they approach Indian Courts and ask for similar reliefs in India, while relying on the order of the Emergency Arbitrator. Indian Courts usually grant the same relief,” said Kabra.

A ‘clash of the titans’

For Reliance, which operates 11,000 stores throughout India, and Amazon, the No. 2 e-commerce player in the country, Future Retail’s 1,500 stores are not a must have, says one analyst.

“It’s not like without it you can’t have your ambitions, if you don’t have Future [Retail],” said Pathak, of Counterpoint Research.

This is “less about Future and more about the clash of the titans,” as well as “protecting your turf,” he added.

To compete with Amazon and Flipkart, Ambani’s JioMart has been growing its presence in India. It expanded to hundreds of cities across India earlier this year and plans to branch into electronics, fashion, pharmaceutical and healthcare soon. The company will also likely tap into Reliance Retail’s network of physical stores across the country to fulfill online orders, according to analysts.

The industry had expected Amazon and Reliance to forge some kind of deal in the future, because they need each other’s expertise, according to Meena, of Forrester. Amazon needs more shops to expand inventory and use retail spaces as storage and delivery hubs. And Reliance doesn’t have a lot of experience in e-commerce, according to Meena.

But any kind of partnership between Amazon and Reliance in the future “depends upon how much bad blood is between them now,” said Meena.

“It might end up becoming an ego battle between the CEOs of both the companies,” he said.

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Ivory Coast elections: Voters go to the polls amid opposition boycott

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image copyrightEPA

image captionVoting cards have been distributed ahead of the presidential election

Polls are set to open in Ivory Coast’s controversial presidential election.

At least 14 people have been killed since riots broke out in August after President Alassane Ouattara said he would run again following the sudden death of his preferred successor.

The main opposition candidates, Pascal Affi N’Guessan and Henri Konan Bédié, say it is illegal for Mr Ouattara to stand for a third term.

They are boycotting the vote and have called for civil disobedience.

  • Old men, chocolate and Ivory Coast’s bitter election

  • The politics of human rights in Ivory Coast
  • A quick guide to Ivory Coast

What is it so controversial?

According to the constitution, Ivory Coast has a two-term presidential limit. Mr Ouattara – who has been elected twice – initially said he would stand down.

But, in July, the ruling party’s previous presidential nominee, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died of a heart attack.

Mr Ouattara subsequently announced that he would run for president after all.

His supporters argued that a constitutional change in 2016 reset the clock and that his first term did not count.

His opponents do not share that view, arguing instead that it is illegal for Mr Ouattara to run for a third term.

What’s the background to the tension?

There has been a decades-long quarrel between some of the country’s leading political figures.

In 2010, Laurent Gbagbo, who was president at the time, refused to concede to Mr Ouattara following the election in that year and this sparked a bitter civil war.

More than 3,000 people were killed in the five months of violence.

Mr Gbagbo also put himself forward to stand in this year’s election but the electoral commission blocked him because he had been convicted in the Ivorian courts.

He was one of nearly 40 potential candidates who were turned down by the commission.

Who are the four presidential candidates?

  • Alassane Ouattara, 78, an economist. Became president in 2011, serving his second term after years in opposition.

    Party: Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP)

  • Henri Konan Bédié, 86, career politician. Served as president between 1993 and 1999, deposed in coup. Party: Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PCDI)
  • Pascal Affi N’Guessan, 67, career politician. Served as prime minister between 2000 and 2003 under then-President Laurent Gbagbo. Party: Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) faction
  • Kouadio Konan Bertin, 51, career politician, known as KKB, was once youth leader in the former ruling Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, is now an MP. Independent candidate

Related Topics

  • Ivory Coast

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Bugatti unveils a super light hypercar that can top 300 mph

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The Bugatti Bolide — a name that comes from French slang for “very fast car,” according to Bugatti — is a concept car designed solely for track driving, not for use on public roads. The Bolide has a modified version of the huge 8.0-liter 16-cylinder engine found in Bugatti’s Chiron, the brand’s core model. It’s built to be super light and can reach a top speed of well over 300 mph, according to Bugatti.

Bugatti hasn’t said whether it will sell the Bolide, but performance brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini offer track-only cars for wealthy customers who want to experience driving in their own private racecars. Cars like this don’t have a lot of the crash safety equipment required in road cars, like airbags, but they do have the specialized safety gear required on many race tracks, such as fittings for racing harnesses.

Designed for optimal aerodynamics, the Bolide is a little over three feet tall, which is about a foot shorter than the Chiron. To get in, occupants must sit on the door sill and put their legs inside before sliding over into the seat.

In designing the Bolide, emphasis was placed on reducing weight and improving aerodynamics. The air scoop that rises from the roof is covered in a special skin that forms blister-like bubbles at high speeds. The bubbles improve air flow over the scoop by 10% while also reducing aerodynamic lift by 17%, according to Bugatti.

All the screws and fasteners in the car are made from titanium, according to Bugatti, and much of the rest of the car is made from lightweight carbon fiber and titanium alloys. The Bolide weighs just over 2,700 pounds, compared to 4,400 pounds for the Chiron. A lot of weight was also saved in the Bolide by giving no consideration to luxury and very little to comfort. The interior is extremely sparse and simple with thin, light racing seats instead of the nicely upholstered seats used in the Chiron.

“All of Bugatti’s expertise has been condensed into the Bugatti Bolide,” said Stefan Ellrott, head of development for Bugatti.

Engineering the Bolide was an opportunity to try new techniques with the aim of reducing weight and increasing performance, he said. For instance, the turbochargers attached to the engine were specially designed to enable more power at high speeds. Bugatti’s already high-performance lubricating systems were redesigned to deal with extraordinarily high cornering forces that can cause oil to move away from where it’s needed.

Should Bugatti ever decide to sell the Bolide, the price tag would certainly be in the multiple millions of dollars, based on the price of Bugatti’s other cars and the cost of similar types of cars from other automakers.

The Chiron, on which the Bolide is based, costs more than $3 million and only 500 will be made. In recent years, Bugatti has introduced a number of other cars based on the Chiron’s engineering, including the Divo, a version designed for lower top speeds but better cornering, of which only 40 will be made. There was the Centodieci, a car designed to celebrate Bugatti’s 110th anniversary, of which just 10 will be built. The Centodieci has a starting price of $9 million and the Divo $6 million.

A more practical Bugatti?

Interestingly, engineers and designers at Bugatti had been working on something radically different for the brand: a lower priced and more practical model. But that work has been put on pause due to the pandemic.

“We were looking at a four-seater with a completely different design — not an SUV, not a sedan, something really, really unique in terms of design and creating a new segment,” Cedric Davy, chief operating officer of Bugatti of the Americas, said in a recent interview. “It’s not dead, but for now, nobody is working on it.”

Adding a more practical model to the lineup is something other supercar companies have embarked on as they seek to appeal to more customers and boost profits.

Bugatti’s sister-brand Lamborghini — both are owned by Volkswagen — began selling the Urus SUV in 2018, quickly doubling Lamborghini’s sales. And Ferrari has been working on something it calls the Purosangue which is expected to be unveiled next year. Executives insist it will not be a traditional crossover SUV, but it will be roomier and more comfortable for passengers than any previous Ferrari.

The reason for the temporary halt to development of the four-door model isn’t any sort of financial constraint, a Bugatti spokesperson insisted, but simple uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Developing a new model involves working with and vetting suppliers, creating prototypes and gauging what the market might be after the pandemic is over, all of which is hard to do at this time.

To save weight, the Bugatti Bolide's interior, shown in an illustration, has none of the shiny metal or quilted leather seen in some of Bugatti's other cars.
But there may be even bigger changes afoot for Bugatti. There have been media reports that Volkswagen is considering selling the brand to Rimac, a Croatian company that makes electric supercars. A Volkswagen spokesperson would not comment on those reports. Rimac did not respond to a request for comment on the reports.

At any rate, Davy said he’s not terribly concerned.

“I’ve been with Bugatti four years and it’s probably the fourth or fifth time that I’ve heard that the company is being sold, so I’m not too worried,” Davy said.

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