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Liberal government writes off $1.1B US loan to Chrysler, plus interest, docs show

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The Liberal government has quietly written off a $2.6-billion auto-sector loan that was cobbled together to save Chrysler during the 2009 global economic meltdown.

The write-off, among the largest ever for a taxpayer-funded bailout, is buried in a volume of the 2018 Public Accounts of Canada, tabled in Parliament on Friday.

The reference contains no explanation for the write-off, identifying neither the business that received the loan nor the sector of the economy.

But CBC News has confirmed the money was lent on March 30, 2009, to Chrysler LLC by the federal government – a non-performing loan that grew with interest over the following nine years. The loan was made by the Harper government, in co-operation with the Ontario government. 

“After exhausting all potential avenues for recovery, a $1.125 billion US principal plus accrued interest write-off in respect of ‘Old Chrysler’ occurred in March,” said John Babcock of Global Affairs Canada, the department responsible.

“This amount is reflected in the Public Accounts.”

At the time of the 2009 auto-sector bailouts in Canada and the United States, Chrysler was split in two: an “Old Chrysler” that went into bankruptcy and a “New Chrysler” that became viable and remains in operation today. Now called Fiat Chrysler, the international firm reported net profits of $4.3 billion US for 2017.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson has previously slammed Ottawa’s auto bailouts for lack of transparency. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

Another 2009 loan, to the restructured Chrysler Corp., was repaid in 2011, when the company paid $1.7 billion in principal and interest to the governments of Canada and Ontario.

CBC News reported earlier this year, drawing on heavily censored documents obtained through the Access to Information Act, that the Liberal government had forgiven a large auto-sector loan.

Similarly opaque

Officials at the time refused to provide details, including the amount or the business that benefited, saying they were protecting “commercial confidentiality.”

Friday’s Public Accounts documents were similarly opaque about the write-off, referring only to the precise value, $2,595,974,536 in Canadian funds.

Canada’s auditor general has previously cited a lack of transparency over the bailouts.

“We found it impossible to gain a complete picture of the assistance provided, the difference the assistance made to the viability of the companies, and the amounts recovered and lost,” Michael Ferguson said in his fall 2014 report.

“There was no comprehensive reporting of the information to Parliament.”

The bare minimum condition for taxpayer support should be transparency– Aaron Wudrick, federal director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

The now-defunct Chrysler loan was administered by Export Development Canada (EDC), which manages the Canada Account, a financial vehicle for making large loans and loan guarantees backed directly by the Government of Canada.

The Canada Account, for example, was used to finance Ottawa’s multibillion-dollar purchase of Trans Mountain Pipeline on Aug. 31, 2018, from Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, in an effort to assure the construction of a pipeline expansion from Alberta to British Columbia.

EDC’s Canada Account transactions currently show an outstanding loan to GM Corp. for more than $1 billion, originally made on April 29, 2009. The loan also appears to be attributed to a bankrupt version of the firm that was split off from a viable version of GM that year.

As part of GM’s restructuring, the federal and Ontario governments also took multibillion-dollar equity stakes in the company. They sold the last of their GM shares in 2015.

Aaron Wudrick of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says it “defies common sense” that a taxpayer should be on the hook for a government mistake. (Brian Morris/CBC)

A political scientist who has studied the auto-sector bailouts, Mark Milke, said in 2015 that the $13.7 billion that Ottawa delivered in 2009 eventually cost Canadian taxpayers about $3.7 billion in money that was never repaid.

In the dark

Industry Canada itself warned in 2014 that “neither Canada nor the U.S. expected any of the loans to be recovered from ‘Old Chrysler’.” It was not clear why the non-performing loan remained on the Canada Account books for four more years.

Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the Chrysler write-off is yet another example of governments keeping citizens in the dark about how their tax dollars bail out corporations.

“While our organization opposes taxpayer bailouts of private businesses as a rule, I think even for those who take a less stringent view, this case highlights the importance of transparency in government expenditures,” he said.

“In short, the bare minimum condition for taxpayer support should be transparency — for the amount given and the terms attached to it. If a business is not even willing to meet that basic requirement in order to receive what are in many cases billions of free taxpayer dollars, they shouldn’t get it at all.”

Word of the Chrysler write-off comes as the Liberal government has been bracing for possible U.S. tariffs against Canada’s auto exports, threatened by the Trump administration.

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter

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U.S. Charges Chinese Tech Giant Huawei, Top Executive

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department is filing charges against Chinese tech giant Huawei.

A 13-count indictment was unsealed Monday in New York charging Huawei, two of its affiliates and a top executive at the company.

The charges include bank fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

A separate case filed in Washington state charges Huawei with stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile.

Meng Wanzhou, the company’s chief financial officer, was arrested in Canada on Dec. 1. Prosecutors allege she committed fraud by misleading American banks about Huawei’s business deals in Iran.

Prosecutors charge Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Huawei is the world’s biggest supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies.

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24 Million Mortgage And Bank Loan Documents Leaked Online

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A trove of more than 24 million financial and banking documents, representing tens of thousands of loans and mortgages from some of the biggest banks in the U.S., has been found online after a server security lapse.

The server, running an Elasticsearch database, had more than a decade’s worth of data, containing loan and mortgage agreements, repayment schedules and other highly sensitive financial and tax documents that reveal an intimate insight into a person’s financial life.

But it wasn’t protected with a password, allowing anyone to access and read the massive cache of documents.

It’s believed that the database was only exposed for two weeks — but long enough for independent security researcher Bob Diachenko to find the data. At first glance, it wasn’t immediately known who owned the data. After we inquired with several banks whose customers information was found on the server, the database was shut down on January 15.

With help from TechCrunch, the leak was traced back to Ascension, a data and analytics company for the financial industry, based in Fort Worth, Texas. The company provides data analysis and portfolio valuations. Among its services, the Ascension converts paper documents and handwritten notes into computer-readable files — known as OCR.

It’s that bank of converted documents that was exposed, Diachenko said in his own write-up.

Sandy Campbell, general counsel at Ascension’s parent company, Rocktop Partners, which owns more than 46,000 loans worth $4.4 billion, confirmed the security incident to TechCrunch, but said its systems were unaffected.

“On January 15, this vendor learned of a server configuration error that may have led to exposure of some mortgage-related documents,” he said in a statement. “The vendor immediately shut down the server in question, and we are working with third-party forensics experts to investigate the situation. We are also in regular contact with law enforcement investigators and technology partners as this investigation proceeds.”

An unspecified portion of the loans were shared with the contractor for analysis, the statement added, but couldn’t immediately confirm how many loan documents were exposed.

TechCrunch has learned that the vendor is New York-based company OpticsML. Efforts to reach the company were unsuccessful. Its website is offline and its phone number was disconnected from service.

In a phone call, Campbell confirmed that the company will inform all affected customers, and report the incident to state regulators under data breach notification laws.

From our review, it was clear that the documents pertain to loans and mortgages and other correspondence from several of the major financial and lending institutions dating as far back as 2008, if not longer, including CitiFinancial, a now-defunct lending finance arm of Citigroup, files from HSBC Life Insurance, Wells Fargo, CapitalOne and some U.S. federal departments, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some of the companies have long been defunct, after selling their mortgage divisions and assets to other companies.

Though not all files contained the highly sensitive and personal data points, we found: names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers and bank and checking account numbers, as well as details of loan agreements that include sensitive financial information, such as why the person is requesting the loan.

Some of the documents also note if a person has filed for bankruptcy and tax documents, including annual W-2 tax forms, which are targets for scammers to claim false refunds.

But the database stored documents in a random order, and were not easily followable or presented in an easy to read or formatted way, making it difficult to follow from one document to another, said Diachenko.

We verified the authenticity of data by checking a portion of names in the database with public records.

“These documents contained highly sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers, names, phones, addresses, credit history and other details which are usually part of a mortgage or credit report,” Diachenko told TechCrunch. “This information would be a gold mine for cyber criminals who would have everything they need to steal identities, file false tax returns, get loans or credit cards.”

Although the documents originate from these financiers, one bank — Citi, which helped to secure the data — said it had no current relationship with the company.

“Citi recently became aware that a third party, with no connection to Citi, was storing certain mortgage origination and modification documents in an unsecure online environment,” said a Citi spokesperson. “These documents contained information about current or former Citi customers, as well as customers from other financial institutions. Citi notified law enforcement, initiated a thorough forensic investigation and worked quickly to ensure the information could no longer be publicly accessed.”

Citi confirmed that “third party is a vendor to a company that had purchased the loans and we have found no evidence that Citi’s systems were compromised.”

The bank added that it’s working to identify potentially affected customers.

Dozens of other companies are affected, including smaller regional banks and larger multinationals.

A Wells Fargo spokesperson said the data was obtained by Ascension from other entities that purchased Wells Fargo mortgages. HSBC said it was investigating if any of its customers’ data, including past customers, and confirmed it had “no vendor relationship with Ascension since 2010.” When reached, CapitalOne did not comment at the time of publication. A Housing and Urban Development spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. The department is currently affected by the ongoing government shutdown. If anything changes, we’ll update.

It’s the latest in a series of security lapses involving Elasticsearch databases.

A massive database leaking millions of real-time SMS text message data was found and secured last year, as well as a popular massage service and, most recently, AIESEC, the largest youth-run nonprofit for working opportunities.

Updated at 5pm ET: with comment from HSBC and additional details regarding OpticsML.

Got a tip? You can send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755–8849. You can also send PGP email with the fingerprint: 4D0E 92F2 E36A EC51 DAAE 5D97 CB8C 15FA EB6C EEA5.

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Brandon Truaxe, Founder of Deciem Skin Care Company, Is Dead At 40

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Brandon Truaxe, the former CEO and founder of the skin care company Deciem, has died at age 40.

An executive at the company confirmed Truaxe’s death in an email to Vox, which also obtained the email sent by acting CEO Nicola Kilner to Deciem’s staff.

“I can’t believe I am typing these words. Brandon has passed away over the weekend. Heartbroken doesn’t come close to how I, and how I know many of you will be feeling,” read the email, which also indicated that the company’s “offices, warehouses, factories and stores” would all be closed Monday to “take the time to cry with sadness, smile at the good times we had, reflect on what his genius built and hug your loved ones that little harder.”

A spokesperson for the Estée Lauder Cos., a minority investor in Deciem, told HuffPost: “Brandon Truaxe was a true genius, and we are incredibly saddened by the news of his passing. As the visionary behind Deciem, he positively impacted millions of people around the world with his creativity, brilliance and innovation. This is a profound loss for us all, and our hearts are with Nicola Kilner and the entire Deciem family.”

Representatives of Deciem did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, but they did post a heartfelt message about Truaxe on their Instagram page.

“Thank you for every laugh, every learning and every moment of your genius. Whilst we can’t imagine a world without you, we promise to take care of each other and will work hard to continue your vision. May you finally be at peace. Love, (forever) your DECIEM,” they wrote.

The Toronto-based company, nicknamed “The Abnormal Beauty Company,” was called Deciem after Truaxe’s intention to launch 10 lines under the brand’s umbrella, though the brand has now exceeded that. Arguably its most famous line, The Ordinary, has gone on to achieve near-cult status for its affordable prices and ubiquity. The line is currently sold at Sephora.

As for Truaxe, he has had a multitude of highs and lows with the company. On the heels of a near-rave review in The New Yorker in early 2018, Truaxe began to appear erratic on social media and use the company’s pages to post bizarre messages and videos. By the end of the year, Estée Lauder took legal action against him, and Truaxe was ousted by a judge as CEO. Kilner has been the acting CEO ever since. Additionally, Truaxe was issued a restraining order by several executives at Estée Lauder.

While the cause of Truaxe’s death is currently unknown, a report published in Canada’s Financial Post in December 2018 indicated that he’d been previously hospitalized for mental health issues several times and had problems with drug use. 

The response on social media has been widespread, as many fans of his skin care brand mourn his death:

This article has been updated with comment from Estée Lauder Cos. and a message posted by Deciem.

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