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Exclusive-Fiat Chrysler nears plea deal in U.S. emissions fraud probe – sources

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October 26, 2021

By Mike Spector and David Shepardson

(Reuters) -Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is nearing an agreement to plead guilty to criminal conduct to resolve a multiyear emissions fraud probe surrounding Ram pickup trucks and Jeep sport-utility vehicles with diesel engines, people familiar with the matter said.

FCA lawyers and U.S. Justice Department officials are brokering a plea deal that could be unveiled in coming weeks and include financial penalties totaling between $250 million and $300 million, the people said.

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Such a resolution with FCA, which is now part of Stellantis NV, would come more than four years after Volkswagen AG pleaded guilty to criminal charges https://www.reuters.com/article/us-volkswagen-emissions/volkswagen-pleads-guilty-in-u-s-court-in-diesel-emissions-scandal-idUSKBN16H1W4 to resolve its own diesel-emissions scandal involving nearly 600,000 vehicles.It would also mark the final significant chapter in the government crackdown on automakers’ emissions practices that was precipitated by Volkswagen’s deception, which became known as “Dieselgate.”

The FCA investigation focuses on roughly 100,000 diesel-powered vehicles that allegedly evaded emissions requirements. The plea negotiations are fluid and some terms, including the size of any financial penalties, could change as discussions continue, the people said.

Justice Department officials are preparing paperwork that will likely be negotiated with FCA to finalize the plea deal, which could result in changes and also present an outside chance for the agreement to fall apart, the people said.

A plea agreement would cap a series of investigations dating back to 2015 surrounding diesel-powered vehicles in FCA’s U.S. lineup. The current criminal investigation targets the U.S unit of the Italian-American automaker. The affected vehicles span model years 2014 to 2016.

Representatives for FCA parent Stellantis and the Justice Department declined to comment.

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The scandals over emissions cheating tarnished diesel technology and accelerated the industry’s shift to electric vehicles.

The European automakers had promoted “clean diesel” technology as a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and ease a transition to an all-electric future. When regulators on both sides of the Atlantic uncovered evidence that diesel vehicles polluted far more in real world driving, the argument for a slower transition to battery electric vehicles was shredded.

Now, automakers are accelerating battery electric vehicle development to comply with tougher, post-Dieselgate pollution standards.

TRIAL SET FOR 2022

The FCA discussions are heating up as one of its employees prepares to face trial next year on charges he misled regulators https://www.reuters.com/article/cbusiness-us-fiat-chrysler-emissions-idCAKBN1W9217-OCABS about pollution from the vehicles, and continued the deception even after officials caught Volkswagen cheating on government emissions tests.

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In April, the Justice Department unveiled charges against two additional FCA employees in the alleged emissions fraud. Italian authorities arrested https://www.reuters.com/business/autos-transportation/italys-police-arrest-stellantis-manager-us-diesel-emissions-enquiry-2021-09-29 one of the two additional employees in September.

An indictment alleges the employees conspired to install illegal software known as defeat devices in vehicles so they could dupe government emissions tests and then pollute beyond legal limits on roadways.

FCA has previously resolved related civil allegations while denying it deliberately attempted to cheat on emissions tests.

Other legal troubles have also dogged the automaker. In March, the company pleaded guilty to violating U.S. labor law, admitting it conspired to make illegal payments to union officials.

The current plea negotiations in the emissions probe come on the heels of other changes at FCA. The company earlier this year sealed a merger with French Peugeot maker PSA to form Stellantis. In September, Stellantis said FCA’s former top boss would depart to become chief executive of AutoNation Inc, the largest U.S. dealership chain.

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In the emissions probe, the criminal case against FCA is expected to track closely with one against Volkswagen that the Justice Department unveiled in 2017, the people said.

Volkswagen admitted to cheating on government emissions tests with diesel-powered vehicles, in the process misleading the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and customers. The German automaker pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States, commit wire fraud and violate the Clean Air Act.

Volkswagen agreed to pay $2.8 billion to resolve that criminal case, and billions of dollars more to settle Justice Department civil allegations and lawsuits from vehicle owners and state officials.

FCA, meanwhile, spoke with senior Justice Department officials in recent months to push back against a demand that the company plead guilty, the people familiar with the matter said.

The automaker instead argued for a so-called deferred prosecution agreement, the people said. In such agreements, a company is criminally charged and agrees to monitoring and other conditions instead of pleading guilty. If the company abides by the agreement, prosecutors later ask a judge to dismiss the charges.

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Justice Department officials rejected FCA’s request for the more lenient treatment.

In talks with U.S. prosecutors, FCA has emphasized the automaker’s January 2019 agreement to pay roughly $800 million to settle civil litigation brought by the Justice Department, state officials and consumers alleging the company’s vehicles evaded emissions requirements, one of the people said.

Separately, FCA this year resolved legal claims from customers who opted out of the earlier settlement with consumers, according to court records.

(Reporting by Mike Spector in New York and David Shepardson in Washington; additional reporting by Joe White in Detroit; editing by Edward Tobin)

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Deutsche Post CEO favourite to become Telekom chairman – sources

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Frank Appel, the chief executive of German logistics company Deutsche Post, is the favourite to become the next supervisory board chairman of Deutsche Telekom, two sources close to the matter told Reuters.

The sources said Deutsche Post’s supervisory board is due to meet on Wednesday and Deutsche Telekom’s board will meet a week later to discuss the matter.

Both companies declined to comment.

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The Handelsblatt newspaper reported on Saturday that Appel would potentially be proposed for election at Deutsche Telekom’s annual meeting on April 7.

The term of office of Telekom chairman Ulrich Lehner, who has headed the Telekom supervisory body since 2008, ends at next year’s shareholder meeting. He had already confirmed that an external search for a successor was under way.

Appel’s predecessor at Deutsche Post, Klaus Zumwinkel, also served as supervisory board chairman of Telekom.

The German government holds stakes in both companies.

Appel, a former McKinsey consultant, has been with Deutsche Post since 2000. In 2002, he became a member of the board of management, and in 2008 he moved up to the post of CEO.

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His contract runs until 2022 and a decision on his future at the Post had been expected soon. Some industry insiders have speculated that Appel could be ready to move on given that Deutsche Post has posted record results through the pandemic.

(Reporting by Matthias Inverardi and Nadine Schimroszik; Writing by Emma Thomasson; editing by David Evans)

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Canadian employers, facing labor shortage, accommodate the unvaccinated

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December 5, 2021

By Julie Gordon and Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s tight labor market is forcing many companies to offer regular COVID-19 testing over vaccine mandates, while others are reversing previously announced inoculation requirements even as Omicron variant cases rise.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government adopted one of the strictest inoculation policies in the world for civil servants and has already put more than 1,000 workers on unpaid leave, with thousands more at risk.

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Airlines, police forces, school boards and even Canada’s Big Five banks https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadas-major-banks-require-employees-entering-premises-be-vaccinated-2021-08-20 have also pledged strict mandatory vaccine policies. But following through has proven less straightforward, especially as employers grapple with staffing shortages and workers demand exemptions.

Job vacancies in Canada have doubled so far this year, official data shows, and vaccine mandates can make filling those jobs harder, potentially putting upward pressure on wages. That could fuel inflation https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadas-annual-inflation-rate-hits-47-oct-highest-since-feb-2003-2021-11-17, already running at a near two-decade high.

“It’s already difficult to find staff, let alone putting in a vaccine mandate. You’d cut out potentially another 20%” of potential workers, said Dan Kelly, chief executive of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

There are pitfalls to employing the unvaccinated. Companies run a higher risk of COVID-19 outbreaks and many vaccinated employees are uncomfortable working with those who have not had the jab, said industry groups and marketing experts.

At Luda Foods, a Montreal-based soup and sauce maker, president Robert Eiser said he has 14 open jobs, no vaccine mandate and no plans to restrict new hires to the vaccinated.

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“I don’t know that I want to reduce the (labor) pool, which is already quite low,” said Eiser. “We need to attract people to meet the demand. If we don’t, our competitors will.”

Data released on Friday underpinned Canada’s tight labor market, with a hefty 153,700 jobs https://www.reuters.com/markets/us/canada-posts-hefty-job-gains-outlook-clouded-by-omicron-variant-2021-12-03 added in November. It also showed a growing mismatch between available workers and unfilled jobs. And job postings are far above pre-pandemic levels. (Graphic: Canada job postings surge above pre-pandemic level Canada job postings surge above pre-pandemic level, https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CANADA2/klvyknzklvg/chart.png)

WALKING BACK

The province of Quebec backtracked on a vaccine mandates for healthcare workers last month, saying they could not afford to lose thousands of unvaccinated staff. Ontario, which was also eyeing a mandate, said it would not go ahead.

Toronto-Dominion Bank and Bank of Montreal have both softened their vaccine policy to allow regular testing for workers who missed their Oct. 31 inoculation deadline.

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In Canada, 86% of adults are fully inoculated, though that drops under 80% among 18-40 year olds. At least 15 cases of the new Omicron https://www.reuters.com/markets/rates-bonds/canada-has-reported-total-11-cases-omicron-variant-health-official-2021-12-03 variant in Canada have been reported in the past week.

John Cappelli, vice president of onsite managed services in Canada for global recruitment firm Adecco, said half of his clients are mandating vaccines with the other half allowing regular testing for the unvaccinated.

But he expects the Omicron variant will prompt more workplaces to get strict on vaccination, even as they grapple with the tightest job market he’s seen in his 25-year career.

“We are now starting to see our first workplace (COVID-19) cases in five months,” he said.

The number of Canadian job postings on search website Indeed mentioning vaccine requirements has quadrupled since August. (Graphic: Canada job postings and vaccine mandates, https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CANADA3/byvrjqrlmve/chart.png)

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In the hard-hit manufacturing sector, where 77% of firms say their top concern is attracting and retaining workers, vaccine mandates are more rare.

Dennis Darby, CEO of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said most of Canada’s factories have operated safely throughout the pandemic. While CME encourages vaccination, “some companies are still using rapid testing if somebody doesn’t want to get vaccinated,” he added.

But companies risk a hit to their reputation if they are overt in efforts to tap into the unvaccinated as a labor pool, said Wojtek Dabrowski, managing partner at Provident Communications.

“If you go out and say, ‘We are intentionally seeking to hire unvaccinated people,’ many customers are equating that with you being anti-science and anti-safety,” said Dabrowski.

(Reporting by Julie Gordon and Steve Scherer in Ottawa, additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Nichola Saminather in Toronto; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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Israeli firm to sell HSBC Tower in New York for $855 million

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December 5, 2021

By Steven Scheer

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s Property and Building Corp said on Sunday it agreed to sell the HSBC Tower building in midtown Manhattan for $855 million to New York-based real estate firm Innovo Property Group, recording a net loss of $45 million.

The Israeli company, which is 63% owned by Discount Investment Corp, said it had also sold property in Israel for 390 million shekels ($123 million).

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Doron Cohen, chief executive of both Property and Building and Discount, said management was focusing on income-producing properties in Israel and that the amount it was receiving from both transactions would allow it to advance this policy.

“We are continuing the policy and examining the possibility of realising additional properties in the United States and in Israel,” Cohen said, noting the sale of the HSBC building came despite “gloomy” predictions over U.S. commercial real estate market.

He cited Tivoli Village, an upscale apartment complex in Las Vegas that opened this year, which may be put up for sale as part of the company’s efforts to boost liquidity and reduce debt.

Along with conglomerate Koor Industries, Property and Building, bought the 30-storey, 80,000 square metre HSBC Tower in 2009 for $353 million. In 2011, Property acquired Koor’s stake in the tower which has an occupancy of 99%, it said. HSBC had bought the building in the 1990s.

Property and Building said the value of the HSBC Tower in its books was $864 million as of Sept. 30. After costs, it said it would record a net loss of $45 million from the sale.

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Completion of the sale is expected by April 1, 2022 subject to Innovo’s right to advance the date while also receiving options to postpone the completion twice for 30 days each.

Property said after the sale it will have a net cash flow of $343 million.

Its shares were 0.7% lower in afternoon trading in Tel Aviv.

($1 = 3.1605 shekels)

(Reporting by Steven Scheer;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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