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Belgian report
by Euro Reporter
2013-09-20 11:22:09
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 Belgium considers sale of BNP Paribas share

The Belgian government may sell part of its 10.3 percent stake in French bank BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA) to bring the country's debt below 100 percent of annual economic output, two Belgian business newspapers reported on Wednesday. A potential sale of Belgium's stake - worth around 6.3 billion-Euros ($8.41 billion) - in France's biggest bank, has been mooted as likely by investment bankers for months. It would mark another milestone in state exits from holdings in European banks resulting from bailouts in the 2008 financial crisis. Belgium took its stake in BNP Paribas following a bailout of Belgian financial group Fortis, which was taken over by the French bank as part of a state-backed rescue. A sale by Belgium would follow on from the UK government's sale of a 6 percent stake in Lloyds (LLOY.L), which has raised expectations the UK might sell its entire stake by mid-2015.

Belgium faces a potential loss on the BNP Paribas stake, according to bankers and investors. The bank is still trading below the purchase price of 68 Euros per share despite a rebound in European bank stocks, in which BNP Paribas's shares have risen almost threefold from 2011 lows. "At current market levels the loss for the Belgian state would be acceptable ... It is plausible that they are really looking for a way to sell this stake," said Yohan Salleron, fund manager at Mandarine Gestion, which owns BNP shares. "A logical outcome would be for BNP to buy back the shares ... That would be the best thing for the shareholders."

The Belgian prime minister's office declined to comment and BNP Paribas declined to comment. BNP Paribas shares were flat at 50.39 Euros at 0830 GMT. A Paris-based trader said a sale of a 5-percent stake seemed "likely". Belgium has agreed with the European Commission to keep its debt below 100 percent of gross domestic product, and would need to find a further 1.8-2.0 billion Euros ($2.4-$2.7 billion) from privatizations to do that, budget minister Olivier Chastel said last week.


Belgium investigates suspected cyber spying by foreign state

Belgium said on Monday it was investigating suspected foreign state espionage against its main telecoms company, which is the top carrier of voice traffic in Africa and the Middle East, and a newspaper pointed the finger at the United States. Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the former state telecoms monopoly Belgacom had filed a complaint in July about the hacking of several servers and computers. "The inquiry has shown that the hacking was only possible by an intruder with significant financial and logistic means," they said.

"This fact, combined with the technical complexity of the hacking and the scale on which it occurred, points towards international state-sponsored cyber espionage." The prosecutors declined to say which foreign state they suspected. Documents leaked by the former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden have revealed a vast National Security Agency (NSA) electronic surveillance program that has tracked enormous quantities of both Americans' and foreigners' email and telephone data.

This has mostly been done by agreement with telecommunications or internet providers or foreign government intelligence agencies. However, the Brazilian television network Globo this month alleged that the NSA had tapped into the computer systems of Epson including Google Inc. and the Brazilian state oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro, as well as France's Foreign Ministry and the Belgian-based international banking cooperative SWIFT, which handles international financial transactions. The Belgian daily De Standaard said the NSA had been monitoring international telephone traffic through Belgacom for two years. It said the hackers had been primarily interested in Belgacom's subsidiary BICS, a wholesale provider of international phone lines and biggest voice carrier in Africa and the Middle East.


Education Ministry website’s caricature draws ire from Jewish group 

The umbrella group of Jewish organizations in Belgium, CCOJB, expressed dismay after the publication on a Flemish Education Ministry website of a caricature drawing comparisons between the fate of the Palestinian people and the Holocaust. The caricature features a Jewish man impaled on the fence of a concentration camp next to a man wearing an Arab kefiyeh headdress, their limbs arranged in the form of a Nazi swastika. The caption “never again” appears above the image of the Jew and the words “over again!” are written at the Palestinian’s right foot. It was  drawn by Brazilian artist Carlos Latuff, who is known for his anti-Semitic and  pro-Palestinian views in his artwork.  The caricature is part of a training exercise for teachers by the Education Ministry of the Flemish Region, one of three entities that make up federal Belgium, in the framework of its ‘’Special Committee for Remembrance Education.’’

In this exercise teachers are asked to analyze the caricature with one of three statements: “This is a Palestinian fleeing Jews;” “Jews want the entire area of Palestine back;” or “Jews call Palestine Israel.” The educational material also includes a “role play” in which children are given a role as either a Palestinian or an Israeli. The Israelis are almost always depicted negatively, with the exception of an Israeli character with many Palestinian friends. “You have sympathy for the radical group Hamas. You live in Gaza and go to work every day in Israel… the death of a Palestinian girl shot by Israeli soldiers in the school playground has shocked you deeply. Israel denies having shot the children, but according to representatives of the United Nations in Gaza everything indicates that she was killed by the Israelis,” describes the Palestinian cue in the role-play exercise.

''This caricature is undoubtedly unacceptable because it denies or minimizes the Holocaust of 6 million Jews by comparing it falsely to an event that is not at all comparable,’’ the CCOJB said in a statement. ''This comparison is outrageous, malicious and doesn’t correspond to reality. It is part of the false and defamatory propaganda against the Jewish people and the state of Israel led since fifty years by radical anti-Zionist groups.’’ The CCOJB urged the competent Flemish Education Ministry to conduct an investigation.  The group’s president, Maurice Sosnowski, said he was ‘’extremely worried by the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and in the world." According to an annual report released last month by a monitoring group, the number of anti-Semitic attacks reported last year in Belgium was at its highest level since 2009.


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