Tuesday PM October 2nd, 2007

Wyatt faces sentencing November 27th on Iraqi oil kickback guilty plea...Enron pays creditors another $1.7 billion...National Association of Realtors says Pending Home Sales Index fell 6.5 percent in August...

Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt, Jr., faces 18 to 24 months in prison and an $11 million fine when he is sentenced on November 27th in New York. Wyatt would report to prison by January 22nd. The 83-year-old pleaded guilty Monday to charges that he paid kickbacks to Iraqi officials to illegally win contracts connected to the United Nations Oil-for-Food program. He told the judge in Manhattan that he agreed in December 2001 to advise others to pay a surcharge into an Iraqi account in Jordan in violation of a rule calling for no direct payments to Iraq. Wyatt cited his age in choosing to plead guilty. He faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted at trial. The plea came on the 12th day of trial, after a weekend of negotiations with the government. The U.N. Oil-for-Food program was set up to finance Iraqi imports of necessities, but Iraqi officials began demanding surcharges in return for contracts to buy Iraqi oil. During the trial, Wyatt's defense lawyers spoke of his successful negotiations allowing him to personally fly out 24 American hostages being held as "human shields" by Saddam Hussein's government in 1990.

Enron Creditors Recovery Corporation has made its 18th distribution to creditors with another $1.7 billion payout. The company, which changed its name from Enron last March, has distributed $13.2 billion to creditors since emerging from bankruptcy in 2004—about 36 cents on the dollar. The payouts follow asset sales and gains through bankruptcy-related litigation and settlements with several banks and brokerages. So far, nine have settled, including JPMorgan Chase, Barclay's and Merrill Lynch, for a total of $971 million. Citigroup and Deutsche Bank chose to go to trial in April.

Here's another piece of the puzzle indicating how tough August was for the housing industry. The National Association of Realtors says its Pending Home Sales Index fell 6.5 percent in August. The indicator, meant to forecast sales over the following two months, was down nearly 22 percent from year-earlier levels. In August, the credit crunch roiled financial markets, prompting intervention by the Federal Reserve. The trade group says a separate check finds that more than ten percent of sales contracts fell through at the last minute, often because of canceled loan commitments.

The automakers are reporting their monthly sales results for September. Ford says U.S. sales dropped 21 percent last month, hurt by deep cuts in sales to rental agencies. At the same time, Toyota saw a drop of four percent. General Motors says sales were flat, helped by its new lineup of pickups as well as the new Cadillac CTS. Honda's U.S. sales rose more than nine percent. Analysts have said that a drop in Toyota sales usually is a sign of a bad month for all automakers since the company had been showing increases during most months.

The U.S. Coast Guard boarded a ship in Port Arthur to see whether it was the source of a large oil spill off the Puerto Rican coast. The 10,000-gallon spill slicked Puerto Rico's southwestern shore in August. Agents boarded the Genmar Progress last week in Port Arthur. The ship is owned by New York-based General Maritime Corporation, and the Coast Guard suspects it of involvement in the spill. A General Maritime spokesman says the company's cooperating with authorities and has sent a team to help with the cleanup. The spokesman notes that it hasn't been determined that the Genmar Progress is definitely to blame for the spill. The Coast Guard says that the company would have to pay three times the cleanup cost if found responsible. The U.S. Attorney's Office would then decide whether to launch a criminal case for violation of environmental laws.

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