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Tuesday June 27th, 2006

European Court of Human Rights rejects appeal to block extradition of British bankers wanted on Enron charges…Univision purchased by consortium of investors…U.S-Arab Economic Forum looks at energy relationship… The European Court of Human Rights today refused to halt extradition proceedings against three British bankers wanted in the United states on Enron-related fraud charges. David Bermingham, […]


European Court of Human Rights rejects appeal to block extradition of British bankers wanted on Enron charges…Univision purchased by consortium of investors…U.S-Arab Economic Forum looks at energy relationship…

The European Court of Human Rights today refused to halt extradition proceedings against three British bankers wanted in the United states on Enron-related fraud charges. David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby are former executives at Greenwich Natwest, a unit of Royal Bank of Scotland Group. They’d had asked the European court to freeze a British court ruling for their deportation ahead of a fuller appeal. However, the European Court said in a letter to lawyers that it saw no immediate cause to overturn the decision of the British courts to send the trio to face trial in the United States. The so-called Bermingham Three have been fighting against their extradition since a British high court ruling in February. The three have consistently argued that most of the alleged offenses took place in Britain and that they should be tried there. They’ve argued that being forced to stand trial in Houston-based Enron’s home state of Texas would be unjust and incompatible with European human rights law.

Enron has agreed to pay the city of Tacoma, Washington more than $3.25 million. The payment is to settle claims that Enron illegally profited by manipulating western energy markets between 1997 and 2003. But Tacoma Power warns that it probably won’t collect the full amount of the settlement. The deal is outlined in an agreement the parties filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Western utilities have argued consumers were overcharged for power because of Enron’s trading practices in the west’s wholesale power markets. The deal needs approval by FERC as well as a bankruptcy court. Municipally owned Tacoma Power notes the bankruptcy court has been distributing funds on such claims at a rate of only about 23 cents on the dollar. At that rate, Tacoma Power would receive about $754,000.

The nation’s largest Spanish-language broadcaster has agreed to be purchased by a group of private investors. Univision says the consortium of investment firms includes Madison Dearborn Partners, Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Saban Capital Group. The group is paying $12.3 billion. It is also assuming $1.4 billion in debt. Univision has three television networks, Univision, Telefutura and Galavision. It also is parent to more than two dozen television stations, a music division, Internet portal and Spanish-language radio stations. The agreement has been approved by Univision’s board and is subject to shareholder and regulatory approvals.

JetBlue Airways is starting non-stop service to Houston from JFK Airport in New York, as we hear in this report from Houston Public Radio’s Laurie Johnson.

Laurie Johnson’s report

Analysts and oil industry leaders say Iraq’s instability has kept foreign oil companies from investing in reconstruction. They say that’s compounding a litany of woes confronting the country’s once-dominant oil sector–from corruption to poorly maintained fields. While the world’s thirst for oil grows, untapped Iraqi reserves and current production that still hasn’t met prewar levels remain problems with no imminent solution. The analysts and industry officials say billions of dollars will flow into the Iraq industry only when Iraq’s newly formed government guarantees a safer environment. Shell Oil President John Hofmeister says it’s too soon to make a judgment on how close we are. He adds he suspects the all-clear could be a few years away. Hofmeister and peers from other oil and gas companies addressed the issue and others today during the second of a three-day conference in Houston. The conference features U.S. and Arab government and business leaders.

BP has broken ground on an employee services building, as it prepares to move more employees off-site at BP’s Texas City refinery. The space outside the refinery’s perimeter will house 75 employees, providing office space for medical personnel and nine training rooms with training simulators. Office space will be available for labor union officials, security and incident management teams, employee lockers and a multi-purpose space for 300 to 500 workers for lunches or meetings. Construction is expected to be completed by May 2007. BP began building new facilities around the site after a March 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers.

Consumer confidence has improved a bit over the past month. That’s the word from the business research group, the Conference Board. It tells of a one-point increase in its closely watched index, moving to 105.7. The rebound is said to result from a moderate improvement in expectations. Consumers are said to remain concerned, however, about the short-term outlook. The showing is better than economists had expected.

The biggest slice of the housing market cooled further last month. The National Association of Realtors reports so-called existing home sales fell 1.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.66 million units. It is the third decline in five months. Regionally, sales posted the biggest decline in the northeast, down 4.2 percent. There were modest increases in the west and the south. Chief economist for the group, David Lereah, says sales will continue to slow if the Federal Reserve continues to boost interest rates. The central bank has a two-day policy-setting session beginning tomorrow.

Treasury Secretary-designate Henry Paulson promises to improve America’s global competitiveness. He tells members of the Senate that would be done, at least in part, by ensuring that companies are treated fairly in trade matters and by keeping taxes down. The Wall Street veteran said during a Senate confirmation hearing that he plans to ”focus intensely” on how the U.S. can maintain and strengthen its competitive position. Paulson’s nomination is not expected to hit any major roadblocks. If approved as expected, the former boss of Goldman Sachs would become Bush’s third treasury secretary since the president took office in January 2001.

Austin has agreed to house a storage center for New Orleans’ vital computer programs. Officials say the partnership will provide a backup for New Orleans in case of emergencies. New Orleans technology officials say power outages resulting from Hurricane Katrina disrupted the city’s computers numerous times. The disruptions affected city government e-mail, as well as databases for payroll, procurement and licensing. In the aftermath, New Orleans developed the backup system, which can be accessed from any location through a laptop. Austin is expected to charge New Orleans a one-time fee of about $5,000. The plan will save New Orleans the cost of building a remote emergency data center or paying a vendor under a monthly lease. New Orleans will be responsible for the system’s installation and upkeep.

Six people are suing San Antonio and Bexar County, alleging mismanagement in their response to a 2004 chlorine gas leak that killed four people. Dozens of other people were injured two years ago tomorrow in a rural area southwest of San Antonio after a Union Pacific train collided with a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train. The BNSF freight train included a pressurized chlorine tank that exploded, releasing poisonous gas. The federal lawsuit, filed in San Antonio, alleges police and a Bexar County sheriff’s deputy barred volunteer firefighters who could have helped city firefighters with rescue. Plaintiffs attorney Phil Ross says San Antonio police and firefighters “pretty well took over the scene, even though they were outside their jurisdiction.” Even so, he says the city didn’t initially commit all of its resources. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff says San Antonio had more equipment and resources to handle the disaster.

The Colorado Department of Corrections has awarded a contract to a Houston company to run a new private prison. The unit will house up to 832 women in Hudson, about 30 miles northeast of Denver. Cornell Companies runs 82 correctional facilities in 18 states. In Colorado, it runs the Southern Peaks Treatment Center in Canon City for up to 160 youths referred by the State Human Services Department and its Division of Youth Corrections. No word yet on when construction will start.

The Belo Corporation has announced plans to offer voluntary severance packages to newsroom employees at the Dallas Morning News. It’s part of an effort to compete in an Internet driven media market. The Dallas-based media company is still working on details, including a timetable for the employee buyouts. The Morning News says it’s the nation’s tenth largest newspaper with an average weekday circulation of 480,000 for the six months that ended March 31st. The paper has been rocked in the past two years by an overstatement of circulation that led to millions in advertising credits. Belo’s other newspapers include the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal and the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, California. Belo also owns 19 television stations.