2 Canadians, 2 Americans freed after kidnapping in Nigeria, police say

Two Americans and two Canadians have been freed after being kidnapped in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna, a police spokesman said on Saturday.

Mukhtar Aliyu, a spokesperson for Kaduna state police, said they were released Friday night after being kidnapped on Jan. 17. He said no ransom was paid.

He said the four were taken to the capital, Abuja, where they were undergoing medical observation because of the trauma they experienced. Aliya said they are in good condition.

State police commissioner Agyole Abeh said one suspect has been arrested and police are searching for other suspects.

The four were abducted while travelling near Kagarko on their way from the city of Kaduna to the capital Abuja. During the ambush, their two police escorts were killed in a gun battle.

The Abuja-to-Kaduna road in Nigeria has long been a haunt for kidnappers. Last February, two German archaeologists were abducted in the region, though were later freed. In October, kidnappers took four Britons in Delta state in the south. Three were released after negotiations, but the other, Ian Squire, was killed. (Google)

At the time, Global Affairs Canada said it could not release further information about the Canadians due to privacy concerns.

Aliya said the kidnapped foreigners are investors who were setting up solar stations in villages around Kafanchan, a town in southern Kaduna State.

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, especially on the Kaduna-to-Abuja highway.

Two German archaeologists were seized at gunpoint last year less than 100 kilometres northeast of Abuja and later freed unharmed. Sierra Leone’s deputy high commissioner was taken at gunpoint on the highway in 2016 and held for five days before he was let go.

Victims typically are released unharmed after ransom is paid, though security forces have rescued a few high-profile abductees. A number of bandits, including herdsmen, have been arrested.

Barry and Honey Sherman were murdered by multiple killers, private investigators believe: source

Private investigators believe that the billionaire Toronto couple found dead at their home in December were murdered by multiple killers, a source with direct knowledge of the parallel probe into their mysterious deaths told CBC Toronto.

The new information contradicts a widely circulated theory that Barry and Honey Sherman died as a result of a murder-suicide — a notion that is regarded as fiction by those who knew the Shermans well.

Barry, 75, and Honey, 70, were found dead by a real estate agent in the basement of their Toronto mansion on Dec. 15. The source said their bodies were in an upright seated position on the floor near an indoor pool. Police deemed the deaths “suspicious” but have said little else since their investigation began. 

The Sherman family has hired a team of experts, which includes a number of former Toronto homicide detectives, to conduct a separate, independent investigation.

The private investigators have found evidence that both Barry and Honey Sherman had their necks wrapped with leather belts that were then knotted around a handrail that runs adjacent to the pool, the source told CBC Toronto. A coroner previously ruled that the couple had died from “ligature neck compression,” or strangulation.

Their wrists showed evidence that they had been, at one point, bound together. No rope or other materials that could have been used to tie their wrists were discovered, the source told CBC Toronto.

Their bodies were otherwise limp and their arms unbound when they were discovered, the source said. 

The team of private investigators believes that the Shermans were, in fact, killed on Dec. 13, two days before they were found. This conclusion is based on the fact that Honey was wearing the same clothes she was last seen in, on Dec. 13, according to the source.

Private investigators also believe that Honey struggled with her killer or killers. She had cuts on her lip and nose, and was sitting in a pool of her own blood when she was discovered. However, there was comparatively little blood apparent on her upper-body clothing, suggesting that she had been face-down on the tile, bleeding, for some time before being bound to the handrail in an upright position, the source said.

Various media outlets have reported that Toronto homicide detectives are probing the deaths as a possible murder-suicide. The couple’s four children, who plan to have their parents’ North York home demolished once a team of private forensic investigators have had time to scour it, have soundly rejected that theory. So have close friends of the Shermans. 

Barry Sherman is the founder of Canadian pharmaceutical giant Apotex, and both he and his wife have been recognized internationally for their generous philanthropy. The couple, who were quite socially active among the city’s gala class, was believed to have amassed a fortune of some $4.77 billion before their deaths. 

The day the Shermans were found dead, police said that there was no evidence of forced entry into the home.

Judge overseeing AT&T, Time Warner merger trial hears document dispute

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – ATT, owner of DirecTV, is asking for documents from a long list of companies as part of preparation for a trial to determine if they will be allowed to buy movie and TV show maker Time Warner, their lawyer Daniel Petrocelli said in a pre-trial hearing on Friday.

The Justice Department sued in November to stop ATT, the No. 2 U.S. wireless company, from buying Time Warner for $85 billion because of concerns that it could raise prices for rivals and pay-TV subscribers as well as hamper the development of online video. Trial is set for March 19.

Daniel Petrocelli, who represents ATT and Time Warner, said that his team had been unable to get data requested from third parties, who had said they no longer had some of it. He asked the government, which did have the data, to return it so it could be subpoenaed.

An attorney for DISH Network Corp at the hearing identified himself to Judge Richard Leon and offered to discuss the dispute but Leon declined.

The third parties included Verizon Communications, Comcast, Cox, DISH, Charter, Disney and Viacom, among others, a source close to the trial said after the hearing.

Leon expressed surprise at the problem.

“So, the only copy they had, they turned over to the government?” he said, calling the situation “rather extraordinary.”

Leon said that if no solution was found by noon on Monday, he would order the government to return the data to the companies so that they could then either comply with the subpoenas or fight them in court.

“I think that’s a sensible approach,” Petrocelli told the judge.

Fights over data are common during antitrust trials since companies that are subpoenaed frequently fear that their rivals’ executives will gain access to sensitive internal data.

For its part, a lawyer for the Justice Department, Peter Schwingler, said the government was barred from giving the data to ATT under the terms of the subpoena that they used to collect it.

Leon had given access to confidential information to the court, Justice Department lawyers and staff, service providers and ATT and Time Warner’s outside counsel.

A second government lawyer, Craig Conrath, said that he would request a stay if the U.S. Congress failed to fund the government and it shut down.

Leon said the trial would likely continue. “My natural inclination will be not to grant a stay,” he said.

The fate of the deal has been widely followed because U.S. President Donald Trump criticized it on the campaign trail in 2016 and has repeatedly attacked the reporting of Time Warner’s CNN news network. In November, Trump reiterated his opposition to the deal.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Sandra Maler

ADM pursues big ag merger with grain trader Bunge: WSJ

CHICAGO/CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – Top U.S. grains merchant Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM.N) has proposed a takeover of Bunge Ltd (BG.N), The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, a move that could set up a battle for Bunge with Swiss-based rival Glencore Plc (GLEN.L).

Large grain traders that make money by buying, selling, storing and shipping crops have struggled in recent years with a global oversupply. Thin margins have squeezed core commodity trading operations, including those of ADM, Bunge, Cargill Inc [CARG.UL] and Louis Dreyfus Co [AKIRAU.UL]. Together the four are known as the “ABCDs” and dominate the global grains trade.

Consolidation is seen as one remedy. Glencore last year sought a tie-up with Bunge in what was viewed as a start of a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the industry.

The Journal quoted unnamed sources as saying that ADM had made the approach and that details were unclear.

White Plains, New York-based Bunge operates in more than 40 countries and is Brazil’s largest exporter of agricultural products, while Chicago-based ADM says it has customers in 160 countries.

Bunge, which has a market capitalization of $9.79 billion, closed up 11.4 percent at $77.56 on Friday. ADM has a market cap of $22.64 billion.

ADM said it does not comment on “rumors or speculation” Bunge did not respond to requests for comment.

STRATEGY SHIFT?

Grain companies in recent years have expanded into higher-margin sectors, such as food ingredients and aquaculture, to offset weak results and wild swings connected to their traditional business of handling crops.

In 2014, ADM bought natural ingredient company Wild Flavors for about $3 billion in its biggest deal ever. The company has also broadened into handling healthy ingredients such as fruits, nuts and “ancient grains.”

“News of the ADM bid is a bit surprising given that ADM had been indicating the company’s strategic direction was more towards value-added rather the traditional commodities,” said Farha Aslam, analyst for Stephens Inc.

ADM is the most U.S.-focused of the major grain companies and a takeover would help it grow in South America, where Bunge is a major agricultural force.

ADM, which dates back to 1902, has tried to expand its international operations in part to take advantage of growing demand from China. In 2013, Australia rejected its attempted $2.55 billion takeover of Australian grain handler GrainCorp Ltd (GNC.AX) on concerns it could reduce competition.

Bunge was founded in Amsterdam 200 years ago. It moved its headquarters to South America as its operations grew in the region and relocated to New York ahead of an initial public offering in 2001.

HURDLES LOOM

Aslam estimated that fair value for Bunge in a takeover would be $90 to $95 per share. Morningstar said Bunge could go for about $90 to more than $100 per share.

Any tie-up would likely face stiff scrutiny from regulators and opposition from farmers who fear handing more market control to ADM could hurt prices paid for wheat, corn and soybeans.

The biggest overlap between ADM and Bunge in the United States is in grain origination and oilseeds processing, Aslam said. The companies would probably need to divest facilities in North America and also possibly in Europe, she said.

Aslam also said it was possible ADM and Glencore could partner in a bid for Bunge to split up its operations.

“ADM would take the more value-added downstream businesses and Glencore would own the more ag commodity businesses,” she said.

Glencore could not immediately be reached for comment.

A grain trading source said there is so much overlap of oilseed crushing assets between the two companies that the reported deal looks defensive – a way to keep Glencore from acquiring Bunge.

Bunge rebuffed Glencore last year, and the two struck an agreement that temporarily prevents Glencore from making a hostile bid, according to news media reports.

FARMERS RAISE WORRIES

An ADM-Bunge merger would also face opposition from farmer groups in key agricultural markets, including the United States, European Union, China, India and Brazil, said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

The companies’ relative tardiness in joining the big-agriculture merger game – following on the heels of DowDuPont (DWDP.N), Nutrien Ltd (NTR.TO) and others – would make gaining regulatory approval even tougher, Gordon said.

“When you’re the first one, there’s still more competition. Once they’ve let a few through, they may have second thoughts,” he said.

Grain farmers need five or six active buyers in order to get fair prices for their goods, but there are already only a handful, said Peter Carstensen, who teaches law at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

“This is the kind of transaction that will screw farmers,” he said.

Illinois farmer Dan Henebry, who delivers corn and soybeans to ADM’s North American headquarters in Decatur, Illinois, said he was worried a takeover of Bunge could lead to grain handlers paying farmers less for their crops.

“We’ve had so many mergers,” Henebry said. “Less competition is not good.”

Reporting by John Benny in Bengaluru, Rod Nickel in Calgary, Alberta, Tom Polansek in Chicago, Chris Prentice in New York and Diane Bartz in Washington; Writing by Peter Henderson and Anna Driver; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler

FTC makes second request on Broadcom’s bid for Qualcomm

(Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has made a second request for information on chipmaker Broadcom Ltd’s $103 billion hostile bid for Qualcomm Inc, Broadcom said in a statement on Friday, a move that could indicate heightened antitrust scrutiny.

The FTC review is part of a process under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act to scrutinize potentially anti-competitive mergers. The vast majority of deals reviewed by the FTC and the Department of Justice are allowed to proceed after the first preliminary review, according to the FTC’s website.

However, if a second request is issued, companies must provide more information to the FTC. As part of its defense against Broadcom, Qualcomm has argued that any deal faces a long antitrust review.

Broadcom said that it had anticipated the second request as a normal part of the regulatory approval process.

“This signifies that Broadcom is moving into the next stage of the U.S. antitrust review process,” Broadcom said in a statement.

Deals that get a second FTC request for information often do so because of their complexity and size, and a potential acquisition of Qualcomm by Broadcom could still subsequently be approved, according to sources who asked not to be named because the matter is private.

Reuters reported on the second request earlier on Friday. Qualcomm declined to comment, while the FTC did not respond to a request for comment.

Broadcom said this week that a separate FTC review of its client relationships is immaterial to its operations, does not relate to its wireless business and has no impact on its proposal to acquire Qualcomm.

Broadcom has said it is very confident it can complete the Qualcomm deal within 12 months of signing an agreement, while Qualcomm has said that the regulatory review processes required around the world would take much longer.

A deal that Qualcomm has in the works, its proposed $38 billion acquisition of NXP Semiconductors, was approved by EU antitrust regulators this week. Only China has yet to approve this deal, something expected in the next two weeks, according to one of the sources.

The NXP deal still faces an uncertain future because some NXP shareholders have asked for Qualcomm to raise its offer.

Broadcom has offered to pay $60 per share in cash and $10 per share of its own stock for Qualcomm. To put pressure on Qualcomm, Broadcom has put forward 11 board director nominees to replace Qualcomm’s board. Qualcomm shareholders are scheduled to vote on these directors in March.

Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis and Liana B. Baker in New York; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman

Possible Buffett heir Abel has small Berkshire stake, likely to grow

(Reuters) – Greg Abel, considered by many investors the top contender to succeed Warren Buffett as Berkshire Hathaway Inc’s (BRKa.N) chief executive officer, on Friday reported owning about $2.1 million of the conglomerate’s stock.

Abel, who along with Ajit Jain was named a Berkshire vice chairman and director last week, disclosed his stake a day after Jain reported a $109 million ownership stake.

The stakes were disclosed in regulatory filings.

Abel, 55, who has run the Berkshire Hathaway Energy unit, was appointed vice chairman to oversee non-insurance operations such as the BNSF railroad, Dairy Queen ice cream, Fruit of the Loom underwear and NetJets planes.

Jain, 66, Berkshire’s top reinsurance executive and the other strong contender to succeed Buffett, was appointed vice chairman to oversee insurance operations such as Geico auto insurance and General Re reinsurance.

Abel reported holding his Berkshire stake indirectly for the benefit of his family. Berkshire Hathaway Energy said about a year ago that Abel owned a stake in that unit that could be converted into Berkshire stock worth more than $400 million at the time.

Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire said last week that relevant factors in its succession planning were that both possess “integrity, business savvy, an owner-oriented attitude and a deep genuine interest in Berkshire.”

Buffett, 87, has run Berkshire since 1965 and has not signaled any plans to leave soon. He owns roughly one-sixth of the company, comprising most of what Forbes magazine said on Friday is his $91.6 billion fortune.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Wall Street ends higher despite government shutdown threat

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Wall Street rose on Friday, led by gains in consumer stocks, even as a possible government shutdown loomed.

The SP 500 and the Nasdaq hit record closing highs, while the Dow ended the day higher after trading in a narrow range.

Nike Inc (NKE.N), Philip Morris International Inc (PM.N) and Home Depot Inc (HD.N) rose between 1.5 percent and 4.8 percent on upbeat analyst expectations, helping to boost the SP 500. Conversely, losses in International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N) and American Express (AXP.N) capped gains on the Dow.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 53.91 points, or 0.21 percent, to close at 26,071.72, the SP 500 .SPX gained 12.27 points, or 0.44 percent, to 2,810.3 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 40.33 points, or 0.55 percent, to 7,336.38.

For the week, the Dow rose 1.04 percent, the SP 500 added 0.86 percent and the Nasdaq gained 1.04 percent.

Nine of the 11 major SP sectors were higher, led by a 1.1 percent gain in the consumer staples index .SPLRCS and a 0.9 percent rise in consumer discretionary stocks .SPLRCD.

A disappointing full-year profit forecast from IBM pushed its shares down 4.0 percent, the biggest single-day loss since July.

American Express slipped 1.8 percent after posting its first quarterly loss in 26 years and suspending share buybacks for the next six months.

“The market has a few jitters as the result of a potential shutdown,” said Kevin Miller, chief executive of E-Valuator Funds in Bloomington, Minnesota. “From a longer-term perspective, corporate earnings are still strong, and we’re about to engage in the benefits of tax reform.”

The U.S. Senate was racing to avert a shutdown ahead of a midnight deadline on the spending measure amid lingering disagreements between Democrats and Republicans. Negotiations continued on Friday after Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer met with President Donald Trump at the White House to address the impasse.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.98-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.51-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The SP 500 posted 105 new 52-week highs and nine new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 171 new highs and 30 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 6.82 billion shares, compared to the 6.32 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

Additional reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler and James Dalgleish

Saudi minister previously held in purge to head Davos delegation

Saudi Arabia’s delegation to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos next week will be led by state minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, who was released from detention related to an anti-corruption purge in November, Saudi sources said.

Assaf, who was also a former finance minister and a board member of national oil company Saudi Aramco, was among people detained and under investigation by a new anti-corruption body, a senior Saudi official had told Reuters.

After he was seen attending a cabinet meeting earlier this month, a Saudi source said he had been cleared of wrongdoing and retained his positions as minister of state and adviser to the king.

Saudi security forces have rounded up dozens of princes, ministers and business leaders and converted the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh into a luxurious prison in what the authorities said was a crackdown on corruption.

The move was also widely seen as helping Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman consolidate his grip on power after he ousted his cousin as heir to the throne in the summer.

Some detainees have cut deals with the government, handing over cash or assets in exchange for their freedom.

Assaf’s restoration appears to suggest that influential figures might keep their positions if they cooperate with the investigations.

The government media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

PCP Capital boss says Newcastle United deal still alive

Amanda Staveley hit back on Friday saying her bid to buy Premier League side Newcastle United remained live despite a source close to present owner Mike Ashley saying it was dead in the water.

Staveley, whose company PCP Capital Partners were instrumental in the deal that saw Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour buy Manchester City, told The Times she had been “hurt” by the remarks made by the source.

The source had told Sky Sports on Tuesday that dealing with Staveley had been “exhausting, frustrating and a complete waste of time”.

Staveley, who has previously failed with a bid to buy Liverpool, rejected this out of hand.

She says her third offer of £250 million ($348 million) is very much a real bid. 

The figure is below Ashley’s asking price but the bid would also see her invest an additional £100 million in players over the first two transfer windows.

“I’m very much still interested in buying Newcastle,” said the 44-year-old English businesswoman.

“And our bid remains on the table.

“I’m very concerned, I’m very surprised and I’m disappointed about what’s been said this week.

“The suggestion that we were either wasting time or not serious is absurd. It’s hurtful. Hugely hurtful.”

Staveley is adamant manager Rafael Benitez is integral to the future plans should they succeed in wresting the club from Ashley’s hands.

“Rafa is doing an incredible job,” said Staveley. “We want Rafa to be part of this project.”

Staveley says she has brought together potential investors from around the globe – believed to be from the Middle East, east Asia and the United States.

“This is something we’ve been working really hard on,” she said.

“It’s not something we’ve just thrown together. I’m putting a lot of my own capital into this and our investors, who come from around the world, include sovereign wealth funds.”

Staveley says there is an emotional element to her interest in buying the club as well.

“They’re such passionate fans and it’s a great club,” she said.

“I’m a northerner. My family home is an hour away from St James’ Park. I just love football and Newcastle has a proper history and a real magic.”

Sportswear magnate Ashley announced he wanted to sell the club last October after 10 years in charge, having paid £134.4 million to buy Newcastle in 2007.

The 53-year-old Londoner has proved a divisive figure during his tenure, which has seen Newcastle twice relegated from the Premier League and then immediately promoted back.

US set to overtake Saudi Arabia as global oil producer

The United States are set to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s number two oil producer after Russia this year, as shale companies, attracted by rising prices, ramp up drilling, the International Energy Agency said on Friday.

“This year promises to be a record-setting one for the US,” the IEA wrote in its monthly market report.

Crude production of 9.9 million barrels per day (bpd) in the US was now at the highest level in nearly 50 years, “putting it neck-and-neck with Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest crude producer after Russia,” the IEA said.

“Relentless growth should see the US hit historic highs above 10 million bpd, overtaking Saudi Arabia and rivalling Russia during the course of 2018 – provided OPEC/non-OPEC restraints remain in place,” it said.

A global supply glut pushed oil prices as low as $30 per barrel at the start of 2016.

But producing nations – both inside and outside the OPEC oil cartel – struck a deal at the end of 2016 to cut back production and drive prices higher.

Geopolitical tensions and a reduction in oil stocks have also contributed to the recovery.

Crude recently rose above $70 per barrel for the first time since 2014 after OPEC and non-OPEC countries agreed to extend their combined cutbacks until the end of this year.

Rising prices have, in turn, made it more attractive for shale companies to increase drilling.

And since the United States is not a party to the deal, its shale production can continue uninhibited.

“US growth in 2017 beat all expectations … as the shale industry bounced back, profiting from cost cuts, (and) stepped up drilling activity,” the IEA said.

“Explosive growth in the US and substantial gains in Canada and Brazil will far outweigh potentially steep declines in Venezuela and Mexico,” it said.

“The big 2018 supply story is unfolding fast in the Americas,” the IEA said.

Shale production is controversial, because in order to extract oil and gas, a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals is blasted deep underground to release hydrocarbons trapped between layers of rock.

And environmentalists argue that the process – known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing technology – may contaminate ground water and even cause small earthquakes.

Regarding OPEC output, the IEA said that there was “no clear sign yet of OPEC turning up the taps to cool down oil’s rally”.

In its own monthly market report published on Thursday, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries had said that the global oil market was moving closer to reaching a healthy balance between supply and demand.

The IEA, which advises advanced market economies on energy policy, said that there was 95-percent compliance by OPEC countries with the agreed cuts.

In the first annual decline since 2013, total oil production from the group’s 14 members fell from 39.6 million bpd to 39.2 million bpd, it said.

And while “supply discipline from the non-OPEC camp has been less rigorous, 82 percent for 2017,” it was “nonetheless strong,” the agency said.

At the same time, the increase in US production offset roughly 60 percent of the realised cuts, the IEA said.

The impact of the reduction was further blunted by a rebound in output from Libya and Nigeria, excluded from the cuts.

The IEA calculated that the global oil supply eased by 405,000 bpd to 97.7 million bpd in December, but this was due mostly to unplanned outages in the North Sea and lower Venezuelan output, the IEA said.

That compares with estimated overall global demand for oil of 97.8 million bpd.

The IEA said that if both OPEC and non-OPEC countries maintained compliance, “then the market is likely to balance for the year as a whole.”

For producers, there was a silver lining to taking part in the supply cuts, since “they earned more in 2017 while pumping less,” it said.

Among OPEC producers, Saudi Arabia saw the biggest reward, making nearly $100 million a day in additional revenue. Beleaguered Venezuela, on the other hand, only earned an extra $9 million.

As a whole, OPEC producers netted an extra $362 million a day.

Russia, not a member of the cartel, earned the most of all, pocketing an additional $117 million a day, the IEA calculated.