NEW DELHI

The logo for Procter & Gamble Co. is displayed on a screen on the floor of the NYSE in New York
FILE PHOTO: The logo for Procter & Gamble Co. is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

April 24, 2019

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian tax authorities have alleged U.S. consumer goods maker Procter & Gamble did not pass on more than $35 million in tax benefits which were meant to have gone to its customers, a senior government official told Reuters on Wednesday.

Separately, the authorities are also investigating South Korea’s Samsung Electronics, the official added.

India’s National Anti-Profiteering Authority, a quasi-judicial body set up following the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax in 2017, found P&G had not reduced its prices on many products after a cut in tax rates on those items, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

P&G told Reuters it denied the allegation.

“We have passed the net benefit and communicated the same via advertising in mass media. As a responsible corporate, P&G has always been committed to passing the net benefit of GST rate reduction to the consumers,” it said in a statement.

Samsung said it had acted in accordance with the rules.

“Samsung reduced its sales price according to GST (Goods and Services Tax) reduction with effect from January 1, 2019. We are cooperating with DGAP (Directorate General of Anti Profiteering) on this matter,” the company said in a statement.

Under Indian law, companies had to pass on the benefits to customers after the government reduced the tax rate to 18 percent from 28 percent, and to 5 percent from 12 percent on many consumer durables and FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods).

“P&G has been issued a notice to submit its reply on April 29 and explain why action should not be taken against it,” the official, with direct knowledge of the inquiry, told Reuters.

The authority will pass a final order in the next three months, the official added.

After an initial investigation, companies are given an opportunity to defend themselves before the authority passes a final order, which can be challenged in India’s higher courts.

($1 = 69.9510 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Manoj Kumar in NEW DELHI, Sankalp Phartiyal in MUMBAI and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in BENGALURU; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

April 24, 2019

By Stephen Kalin and Saeed Azhar

RIYADH (Reuters) – Global finance chiefs who boycotted a Saudi investment summit last year following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi returned to Riyadh this week as the Gulf kingdom gets business back on track.

Dozens of Western politicians and business executives pulled out of Saudi Arabia’s showcase summit in October amid global uproar over Khashoggi’s killing at the hands of Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate three weeks earlier.

A Saudi court has charged 11 suspects in a secretive trial and Western allies imposed sanctions on individuals. But Riyadh still faces criticism with some Western governments saying Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder. Saudi authorities have denied any connection to the country’s de facto ruler.

Big investors in Saudi Arabia appear to be focused on potential deals in the largest Arab economy and the world’s top oil exporter as it opens up under a transformation drive led by Prince Mohammed.

HSBC CEO John Flint and Blackrock CEO Larry Fink, who had stayed away from last year’s event, joined panels at the two-day financial forum that began on Wednesday, as did co-president of JPMorgan Chase & Co, Daniel Pinto.

“This is an economy that we have a lot of confidence in, I think the future is bright,” Flint told the gathering. “We are excited about the role that we can continue to play here.”

Fink told another panel: “The changes here in the kingdom in the last two years are pretty amazing.”

The CEO of the London Stock Exchange, who had pulled out of last year’s event, is also scheduled to speak at the financial conference. Also slated to attend is the chairman of Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc, whose CEO decided to abstain from the October summit.

Riyadh has been trying for months to refocus attention on its reforms, sending a senior delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos and unveiling an industrial plan to attract hundreds of billions of dollars in investments in January.

The summit is taking place days after Saudi security forces thwarted an attack on a state security building in central Riyadh province, which authorities blamed on Islamic State.

On Tuesday Saudi Arabia announced it had executed 37 people in connection with terrorism crimes, the majority of whom were Shi’ite Muslims. Amnesty International criticized the executions as a “gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent” in the kingdom.

Asked how Saudi Arabia was addressing national security issues, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan told the audience the Gulf region is “one of the safest worldwide”.

“These incidents will happen,” he said of the Riyadh province attack. “We are working with the world to make sure that we combat the financing of terrorism… and we work very closely with the West and the regional forces to make sure that we intercept and fight terrorism.”

MARKET CONFIDENCE

Earlier this month, state oil giant Saudi Aramco received more than $100 billion in orders for its first international bond issue, a record breaking vote of market confidence.

Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih told the forum that Aramco would be active in debt markets and that the $12 billion it raised in its debut bond issue was “only the beginning”.

The Saudi stock market has also seen an upsurge in foreign fund flows since the start of 2019 as the market enters global emerging market benchmarks. The index is up nearly 18 percent year-to-date, one of the best performing markets in the region.

The domestic financial sector is seeing a relative uptick in activity this year, fueled by an economic recovery from higher oil prices and government-led spending on big projects.

Jadaan told the forum that the ministry is launching a 12.5 billion riyal($3.33 billion)initiative to support private sector growth in the kingdom.

While some foreign investors are pushing ahead, other firms continue to keep Saudi Arabia at arm’s length, fearing a potential backlash at home over Khashoggi’s murder, the Yemen war and Riyadh’s detention of women’s rights activists.

Virgin Group last year suspended talks with the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) over a planned $1 billion investment. Hollywood talent agency Endeavor and PIF “parted ways” after talks on the fund investing $400 million, a source familiar with the matter has said.

(Editing by William Maclean)

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FILE PHOTO - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi listens to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he speaks during their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi
FILE PHOTO – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi listens to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he speaks during their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

April 21, 2019

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – After condemning the series of deadly bomb attacks on Sri Lankan churches and luxury hotels on Sunday that killed more than 200 people, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told voters that they needed to elect him to a second term as only he can beat the “terrorists” threatening India.

“Should terrorism be finished or not?,” he told an election rally in the western state of Rajasthan. “Who can do this? Can you think of any name aside from Modi? Can anybody else do this?”

Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have promoted the government’s national security record as a vote winner in India’s staggered general election that began on April 11 and will end on May 19. Votes will be counted on May 23.

In particular, Modi’s muscular stance against Pakistan, which New Delhi says backs armed Islamist militant groups, had boosted support for the BJP in a tightening election race where opposition parties have focused on weak jobs growth and low farm incomes.

Tensions between India and Pakistan peaked earlier this year after a February suicide bomb attack in disputed Kashmir that killed 40 Indian paratroopers, and was claimed by an Islamist militant group based in Pakistan. Modi then sent warplanes to Pakistan to bomb a purported training camp, in India’s first such aerial strike since 1971.

Indian officials say that three Indian nationals are known to be among the dead in the Sri Lankan attacks. No group has yet claimed responsibility.

“In our neighboring Sri Lanka, terrorists have played a bloody game. They killed innocent people,” Modi said.

At another rally in Rajasthan on Sunday, Modi again mentioned the attacks in Sri Lanka and said that India, too, continues to suffer because of militants.

“India has now ended its policy of getting scared of Pakistan’s threats,” Modi said, “‘We have a nuclear button, we have a nuclear button’ they used to say.”

“What do we have then?” he said, to cheers from the crowd.

Pakistan has 140 to 150 nuclear warheads, compared with India’s 130-140 warheads, according to estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Both countries have ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Additional reporting by Jose Devasia; Editing by Martin Howell and Louise Heavens)

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FILE PHOTO: India's Supreme Court is pictured through a gate in New Delhi
FILE PHOTO: India’s Supreme Court is pictured through a gate in New Delhi, India May 26, 2016. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/File Photo

April 20, 2019

MUMBAI (Reuters) – The chief justice of India’s Supreme Court, Ranjan Gogoi, on Saturday denied allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward a junior court assistant who worked in an office at his home and that she was subsequently victimized.

“This is unbelievable,” Gogoi, India’s most powerful judge, told a special hearing of the court he called on Saturday so that the allegations could be addressed. “I should not stoop low even in denying it.”

Gogoi said the events showed that India’s judiciary was under “serious threat” and was being destabilized by a larger conspiracy, without elaborating.

“There is some bigger force behind the woman,” he said.

The allegations, dating from October, were carried in full by a number of major Indian online publications on Saturday.

The 35-year-old woman, whose identity has not been publicly disclosed, wrote a letter to all 22 of the Supreme Court judges along with an affidavit detailing her allegations on Friday.

Those included a series of allegations that the woman and her family were victimized by a series of related actions by the authorities, including the termination of her employment, and the suspension of her husband and his brother, who worked in the Delhi police force.

She also says another brother of her husband’s had his Supreme Court job terminated and she also faced a “false and frivolous” bribery complaint, leading to her arrest and subsequent bail.

“Me and my family’s victimization is a consequence of my not agreeing to the sexual advances made by the Chief Justice of India, Justice Rangan Gogoi,” she said in the letter to the judges.

Justice Arun Mishra, who joined Gogoi on the bench for the special hearing, said the allegations were “wild and baseless”.

The court asked the media to show restraint in covering the case to avoid undermining the reputation and independence of the judiciary, though it decided not to issue a gag order.

(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty; Writing by Swati Bhat; Editing by Martin Howell and Alison Williams)

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A view shows a helmet with the logo of Rosneft company in Vung Tau
FILE PHOTO – A view shows a helmet with the logo of Rosneft company in Vung Tau, Vietnam April 27, 2018. Picture taken April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

April 18, 2019

By Marianna Parraga

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – President Nicolas Maduro is funneling cashflow from Venezuelan oil sales through Russian state energy giant Rosneft as he seeks to evade U.S. sanctions designed to oust him from power, according to sources and documents reviewed by Reuters.

The sales are the latest sign of the growing dependence of Venezuela’s cash-strapped government on Russia as the United States tightens a financial noose around Maduro, who it describes as a dictator.

With its economy reeling from years of recession and a sharp decline in oil production, Venezuela was already struggling to finance imports and government spending before Washington imposed tough restrictions on state oil company PDVSA in January.

Oil accounts for more than 90 percent of exports from the OPEC nation and the lion’s share of government revenues. Maduro has accused U.S. President Donald Trump of waging economic war against Venezuela.

Since January, Maduro’s administration has been in talks with allies in Moscow about ways to circumvent a ban on clients paying PDVSA in dollars, the sources said. Russia has publicly said the U.S. sanctions are illegal and it would work with Venezuela to weather them.

Under the scheme uncovered by Reuters, Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has started passing invoices from its oil sales to Rosneft.

The Russian energy giant pays PDVSA immediately at a discount to the sale price – avoiding the usual 30-to-90 day timeframe for completing oil transactions – and collects the full amount later from the buyer, according to the documents and sources.

“PDVSA is delivering its accounts receivable to Rosneft,” said a source at the Venezuelan state firm with knowledge of the deals, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Major energy companies such as India’s Reliance Industries Ltd – PDVSA’s largest cash-paying client – have been asked to participate in the scheme by paying Rosneft for Venezuelan oil, the documents show.

Rosneft, which has heavily invested in Venezuela under President Vladimir Putin, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Venezuela’s oil ministry, its information ministry, which handles media for the government, and PDVSA did not respond to questions.

Asked about the transactions, a spokesperson for Reliance said it had made payments to Russia and Chinese companies for Venezuelan oil. The spokesperson said the payments were deducted from money owed by Venezuela to those countries, but did not provide further details.

“We are in active dialogue with the U.S. Department of State on our dealings on Venezuelan oil to remain compliant with U.S. sanctions,” the spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas, Nidhi Verma in New Delhi, Julia Payne in London; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Simon Webb,David Gaffen and Marguerita Choy)

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FILE PHOTO: The logo is seen on the bonnet of a new Ford Aspire car during its launch in New Delhi
FILE PHOTO: The logo is seen on the bonnet of a new Ford Aspire car during its launch in New Delhi, India, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

April 18, 2019

(Reuters) – Automaker Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd signed a deal with Ford Motor Co’s Indian unit to jointly develop midsize sports utility vehicles in India, the company said on Thursday.

Ford and affiliate companies will invest 6.80 billion rupees ($97.97 million) for the development of the vehicles over a period of 10 years, Mahindra said in a statement.

(Reporting by Krishna V Kurup in Bengaluru; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)

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A polling officials holds an Electronic Voting Machine inside a strong room at a distribution centre ahead of the second phase of general election in Srinagar
A polling officials holds an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) inside a strong room at a distribution centre ahead of the second phase of general election in Srinagar April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

April 18, 2019

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Voters across swaths of southern India began queueing up early on Thursday in the second phase of a mammoth, staggered general election in which opposition parties are trying to stop Prime Minister Narendra Modi from winning a second term.

More than 155 million people are eligible to vote in the second phase, which covers 95 parliament constituencies in 12 states including parts of restive Jammu and Kashmir. India’s parliament has 545 members.

The focus will be on the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where the main opposition Congress party and its allies need to win big if they hope to oust Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“If the non-BJP parties perform well in these two states, then they would still be having a chance of forming a non-BJP government at the center,” said Sanjay Kumar, director of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, a think tank based in the capital, New Delhi.

The election began last week and will end next month in a giant exercise involving almost 900 million people.

Votes will be counted on May 23 and the results are expected the same day.

The BJP began the election as the frontrunner, with Modi setting muscular national security as his campaign plank after a renewal of hostilities with neighboring Pakistan.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Paul Tait)

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FILE PHOTO: Jet Airways aircrafts are seen parked at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi
FILE PHOTO: Jet Airways aircrafts are seen parked at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo

April 18, 2019

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Lenders to India’s Jet Airways Ltd said on Thursday they are “reasonably hopeful” that the bidding process for the grounded airline will end successfully.

Jet Airways, once India’s largest private airline, on Wednesday evening halted all flight operations indefinitely after lenders led by State Bank of India declined to extend more funds to keep it going.

“The lenders after due deliberations decided that the best way forward for the survival of Jet Airways is to get the binding bids from potential investors who have expressed EOI and have been issued bid documents on 16th April,” the lenders said in a statement, referring to expressions of interest.

“Lenders are reasonably hopeful that the bid process is likely to be successful in determining fair value of the enterprise in a transparent manner.”

(Reporting by Tanvi Mehta, writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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FILE PHOTO: The logo of TikTok application is seen in this picture illustration
FILE PHOTO: The logo of TikTok application is seen on a screen in this picture illustration taken February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Illustration/File Photo

April 17, 2019

By Aditya Kalra and Sankalp Phartiyal

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – An Indian ban on downloading TikTok, one of the world’s most popular mobile applications, has heightened industry worries that technology companies could now face increased scrutiny and regulatory challenges in one of their most important markets.

TikTok, which allows users to create and share videos with special effects, has become a sensation in India, where it has been downloaded by nearly 300 million users so far, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower, out of more than 1 billion installs globally.

Its runaway popularity has attracted criticism from some politicians, however, in a largely conservative society that can have a low boiling point for even moderately racey content.

In the case of TikTok, 15-second dance clips and memes dominate the platform, although some videos do show youngsters, some scantily clad, lip-syncing and grooving to popular tunes. Local media have also reported several accidental deaths when users attempted to make videos with knives and guns.

The IT minister of Tamil Nadu state, M. Manikandan, said in February that “young girls and everybody is behaving very badly” on TikTok.

On Wednesday, TikTok vanished from Google and Apple’s app stores in India. The rare takedown of such a popular app came after the Madras High Court said the app encouraged pornography and asked the government to ban it. The federal IT ministry then issued a follow-up directive to Google and Apple.

Industry executives, technology lawyers and free-speech activists interviewed by Reuters on Wednesday said the ban was a major concern.

“It does unnerve me,” said a senior executive working for a social media company in New Delhi. “For the industry, it sets a worrying precedent in India.”

A TikTok spokesman said on Wednesday that it had faith in the judicial system and was “optimistic about an outcome that would be well received by” its millions of users in India. The state court will next hear the case on April 24.

Google told Reuters late on Tuesday it does not comment on individual apps but adheres to local laws. Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

CRITICAL MARKET

TikTok is not the first social media company to run into trouble in India.

Facebook and its messenger app WhatsApp, which count India as their biggest market, have been under pressure from authorities to better tackle fake news and monitor content on their platforms.

Global video streaming giant Netflix was dragged into a legal battle last year following a complaint that one of its fictional series insulted a former Indian prime minister.

But industry executives said the ruling against TikTok was particularly worrisome, given that it originated from a public interest complaint brought by an individual in Tamil Nadu – opening their digital content to judicial scrutiny that could potentially derail their India strategy overnight.

“It shows a level of uncertainty which is not great for investors, for private equity firms and for venture capital,” said Apar Gupta, executive director at advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation.

India is a critical market for social media and mobile digital content companies as the country is witnessing a sharp surge in use of smartphones. An estimated half-a-billion Indians now have access to the Internet.

Singapore-based Bigo, which has a live video streaming app, has also been expanding in India. TikTok’s owner Bytedance Technology Co, one of the world’s most valuable start-ups, also runs another social app named Helo, which allows users to share content in local languages.

Bytedance has more than 250 employees in India, with plans to expand further, one of its court filings showed. It had about two dozen India job openings listed on LinkedIn as of Wednesday.

SEXUAL PREDATORS

Such is the TikTok craze that a Reuters photographer recently saw more than a dozen youngsters shooting TikTok videos on their smartphones at a popular Mumbai promenade. While some danced as they lip-synced to songs, others used teddy bears as props.

The Tamil Nadu court, which ruled against TikTok, said inappropriate content was its dangerous aspect and that the app could expose children to sexual predators.

The ban does not apply to use of the TikTok app if it has already been downloaded.

The Chinese company unsuccessfully argued at the Supreme Court last week that a ban “amounts to curtailing of the (free speech) rights of the citizens of India”.

A “very minuscule” proportion of TikTok’s videos were considered inappropriate or obscene, the company said in its Supreme Court filing, adding that it was primarily an entertainment platform.

That argument cut no ice with the app’s critics, however.

Hindu nationalist group Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, which is close to India’s ruling party and had previously criticized the app’s content, on Wednesday welcomed the ban, saying TikTok was “against Indian culture and morality”.

It also struck a chord in some family living rooms in India.

“From small kids to old ladies, it is spoiling the minds of everyone,” said S. Nithyajothi, a homemaker from the southern city of Madurai. “I strictly ask anyone coming to my house to not talk about TikTok, it is addictive and it is unnecessary.”

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Sankalp Phartiyal; Additional reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan and Danish Siddique; Editing by Martin Howell and Alex Richardson)

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FILE PHOTO: Jet Airways aircrafts are seen parked at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi
FILE PHOTO: Jet Airways aircrafts are seen parked at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo

April 17, 2019

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Embattled carrier Jet Airways Ltd is set to temporarily halt operations on Wednesday after its banks rejected the debt-laden carrier’s request for emergency funding, three sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

The airline, saddled with roughly $1.2 billion of bank debt, has been teetering for weeks after failing to receive a stop-gap loan of about $217 million from its lenders, as part of a rescue deal agreed in late March.

Jet and its lead lender State Bank of India (SBI) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Tanvi Mehta and Aditi Shah; Editing by Euan Rocha)

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