ECB’s Draghi Stresses Central Bank Independence

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi delivered a thinly veiled warning to Hungary Friday, stressing that central bank independence is key for a credible monetary policy and that the government should strive for transparency and predictability in its policies.

“Each central bank in the European Union should have institutional, personal, functional and financial independence,” Mr. Draghi said in a speech in Budapest. “Institutional and personal independence protect the central bank and members of its decision-making bodies from direct and indirect influences of third parties in the performance of their tasks.”

Mr. Draghi didn’t single out Hungary but left little doubt about the target of his remarks, delivered in a speech at a conference marking the last major event hosted by outgoing Hungarian central bank President Andras Simor.

Mr. Simor’s term as well as that of his two deputies will expire next year and the decision about the replacement will be largely in the hands of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Hungary’s government has been in repeated battles with the ECB and the International Monetary Fund about its central bank policies over the past several years.

Mr. Draghi said central banks in small and open economies must be aware of their policies’ impact on the exchange rate. When faced with private and public sectors heavily indebted in a foreign currency, “central banks have little space for manoeuver” to boost a flagging economy, he added.

Hungary has a small and open economy and its households, government and municipalities alike are heavily indebted in the Swiss franc versus the local currency, the forint.

Against the votes of Mr. Simor and his two deputies, Hungary’s Monetary Policy Council cut interest rates each month over the past four months due to a majority vote from MPC members appointed by a parliament where the governing Fidesz party has a majority.

In comments that also appeared to be addressed to the Hungarian government, Mr. Draghi said that a sound fiscal policy should support price stability and serve as a building block of convergence toward the euro zone.

“Economic growth led by the private sector needs to be fostered by a stable and business-friendly environment. In this respect, governments should strive for transparency and predictability of the policy regime, a low compliance burden and effective governance in applying the rule of law,” Mr. Draghi said.

“Fiscal policies should be sustainable and oriented to the medium term,” Mr. Draghi said.

Hungary has embarked on several temporary measures that analysts say will keep its budget deficit in line with EU-norms for this year and next year. But policy uncertainty has made the country unattractive for direct investment, some analysts have said.

Write to Margit Feher at margit.feher@dowjones.com

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires

Copyright © 2012 Dow Jones Newswires

Chinese group in talks to buy AIG air lease arm-sources

A group of Chinese companies, including Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), is in talks to buy nearly all of American International Group Inc’s aircraft leasing unit for about $5.5 billion, AIG said on Friday.

The deal is expected to be announced as soon as early next week, a source familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

AIG, which has been selling assets to pay back a $182 billion U.S. government bailout from 2008, had long been hoping to float its ILFC unit through an initial public offering, but poor market conditions forced it to delay those plans.

An IPO was expected to value the company at $6 billion to $8 billion, according to previous reports on the plans.

AIG Chief Executive Robert Benmosche said last month that he was waiting for markets to improve to take ILFC public.

AIG said it is in talks to sell a 90 percent stake in the unit to a consortium including trust company New China Trust Co Ltd, China Aviation Industrial Fund, and an investment arm of ICBC , China’s largest bank. New China Trust is 20 percent-owned by British bank Barclays Plc .

“The talks are reasonably far along,” a second source said.

Shares in AIG rose 2.2 percent to $33.98 in midday trading, their highest level since early November.

INDUSTRY LEADER

According to AIG’s third-quarter earnings report, ILFC’s net book value as of September 30 was $7.9 billion. In the past, Benmosche had been adamant about not selling ILFC for less than book value, although the fact that the IPO process has languished for 15 months may have changed his thinking.

The report said ILFC had total assets of $39.6 billion and reported $39 million in operating income in the third quarter, compared to an operating loss of $1.3 billion a year earlier, when it took $1.5 billion of impairment charges and fair value adjustments.

Founded by leasing legend Steven Udvar-Hazy, who sold the company to AIG and eventually formed his own group, ILFC is one of the world’s largest leasing companies and among the world’s biggest owners of passenger jets. Its main rival is GECAS, the aviation leasing arm of General Electric Co .

ILFC’s customers include most of the world’s major airlines.

Since it was founded almost 40 years ago, ILFC has bought a combined total of more than 1,500 passenger jets from Boeing Co and Airbus , according to manufacturer figures.

ILFC has a portfolio of more than 1,000 owned or managed aircraft. It has on order 239 new fuel-efficient planes, including Boeing 787s and Airbus A320neos, and has the rights to purchase an additional 50 such aircraft.

The leasing company has been looking for areas of growth and beefed up its presence in the Asia Pacific region by opening offices in Singapore and Beijing this year.

CHINESE BUYING SPREE

China has shown interest in buying aircraft leasing businesses before.

China Development Bank, the country’s policy lender, was among the short-listed bidders for Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc’s aviation business earlier this year, according to a previous Reuters report.

That business was bought by a consortium led by Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group .

Analysts say China tends to balance its orders between Airbus and Boeing, the world’s two dominant aircraft manufacturers, partly for political reasons.

As a result, the manufacturers may not need to compete as heavily for orders as in the rest of the world, so China is paying a premium for aircraft, industry experts say. The order books of ILFC could mean cheaper planes for China.

Chinese companies have launched about $51.3 billion worth of overseas acquisitions this year, making the country Asia’s second-biggest spender on outbound transactions, according to Thomson Reuters data, behind Japan.

A spokesman for ICBC declined to comment. Reuters was unable to reach New China Trust and China Aviation.

(Additional reporting by Alison Leung, Vikram Subhedar, Kelvin Soh, and Elzio Barreto in Hong Kong, Tim Hepher in Paris and Ben Berkowitz in New York; Editing by Mark Potter, Lisa Von Ahn and John Wallace)

GOP’s Boehner Says No Progress in ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Talks

House Speaker John Boehner sounded a downbeat note Friday about talks to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” in less than four weeks, saying that “there is no progress to report,” but sidestepped a question about whether Republicans would allow top tax rates to rise.

“There are a lot of things that are possible to put the revenues the president seeks on the table,” Mr. Boehner said. “But none of it is going to be possible if the president insists on his position, insists on my way or the highway–that’s not the way to get to an agreement.”

A spokesman said later Mr. Boehner didn’t intend to indicate a change of position on rates.

His comments came in response to a question about whether Republicans would be open to allowing the top individual rate to rise to a level of perhaps 37%–a rate that would also fall short of the 39.6% rate demanded by President Barack Obama.

Shortly after Boehner spoke, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) created an opening when she said the fight was not about whether 37% was the appropriate top tax rate, but about how to raise enough tax revenue.

“It’s not about the rate–it’s about the money,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters in a press briefing.

She said the point was not “about being punitive to the high end–it’s about getting money to reduce the deficit, to grow the economy.”

Congress should be in session in order to “have that kind of a review of the facts” about whether accepting a lower top rate would raise enough money, according to Mrs. Pelosi.

“At this point the 39.6% does produce the revenue,” she said.

Mr. Obama’s plan to limit tax deductions for high earners to 28% was also part of the equation, she added, “so it’s not just about the rate and what it brings in.”

Mr. Boehner spoke with Mr. Obama on Wednesday, and staff resumed conversations on Thursday. The two sides have been at odds for more than a month over how to avoid the tax increases and spending cuts set for next year–a combination dubbed the fiscal cliff.

“The phone call was pleasant–but it was just more of the same,” Mr. Boehner said. He added that conversations with staff were also “more of the same.”

Mr. Obama has insisted that tax rates increase on high earners. Mr. Boehner has agreed to higher tax revenue, but only through closing tax loopholes. He says that higher tax rates would harm small businesses that report income as individuals.

“I came out the day after the election, and I put revenues on the table, taking a step toward the president to try to resolve this,” Mr. Boehner said. “When is he going to take a step towards us?”

At another point in the press conference, Mr. Boehner said, “Even if the president got the tax rate hike that he wanted, understand that we would continue to see trillion (dollar) deficits for as long as the eye can see.”

Write to Siobhan Hughes at Siobhan.hughes@dowjones.com

Copyright © 2012 Dow Jones Newswires

Unemployment rate drops to 7.2% on 59,000 new jobs

Canada cranked out 59,000 new jobs in November as an increase in full-time work helped push the unemployment rate down 0.2 percentage points to 7.2 per cent, according to statistics released today.

Statistics Canada said Friday there were job gains in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island.

There was little change in the other provinces.

Much of the job gains came from the private sector, because public-sector jobs and the number of self employed people were basically unchanged.

Manufacturing job losses

The strong jobs number beat economists’ expectations by a long shot, and was a big rebound from a flat showing the previous month.

The decline in the jobless rate was especially significant, as Canada’s unemployment rate had been stagnating at around 7.4 per cent for a few months.

The unemployment rate dropped because the 59,000 new jobs number was large enough to offset the 19,000 new workers who entered the workforce during the month.

Within the numbers, the food service, retail and agricultural sectors saw strong gains, whereas the manufacturing sector shrank, continuing its long-term trend.

“Construction jobs fell 8,000 and are down about 16,000 [from] year-ago levels, which is a slight warning sign on where the housing debate is going,” Scotiabank economist Derek Holt noted.

Oldfield: Time for NHL, players to get real

We are now probably just two short steps away from a lost NHL season. There’s little doubt the next announcement from the league will be about the cancellation of more games, perhaps into January.

The next one after that will be “Sorry, folks. That’s all.”

It’s hard to believe that two parties sitting on a gold mine are wasting their time scratching through the tailings pile.

Other than the fact there is an expired collective agreement in need of renewal, there is nothing typical about these negotiations between the NHL and its Players’ Association. In the coming years, for labour geeks like me, this will make a fascinating case study about how not to negotiate a deal.

The angry drum beats and declarations of shock and disappointment are already flying, along with finger pointing. Commissioner Gary Bettman is going scorched earth, announcing all offers are off the table. Bill Daly claims player contract lengths are “the hill we are going to die on.”

Is he kidding? Really? More than $3 billion in revenue is being chucked over whether players have contracts that run more than five years?

In the meantime, union head Don Fehr seems genuinely surprised the parties aren’t as close as he thought they were. Perhaps excluding Fehr and Bettman from the meetings for a couple of days wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Here we have an enterprise that has seen record increases in revenues through some of the toughest economic times ever. We mere mortals are unable to contemplate “billions” of dollars. That’s a lot of zeros in anyone’s language and we’re getting a lot of zeros from the bargaining table. Not many parties have had the opportunities these guys have had. Sadly, they’ve been regularly and consistently squandered.

So, where do we go from here?

There will be no knight on a white charger arriving to get these folks on the same page. Sure, the players could decertify, or their union could issue a “disclaimer of interest.” The league could challenge it all before the labour board or in the courts. Or it could take anti-trust lawsuits through months and/or years of litigation. The league could suspend operations until such time as “the union comes to its senses.” Again, more game-playing, more avoiding the inevitable.

These threats by the league of pulling its offers off the table, which in bargaining reality is much like putting smoke back into the bottle, are nonsense. Not only that, you don’t get a deal by running in the opposite direction. By now the NHL and the players know where the deal is. For whatever reason they are going to continue to lock horns. Perhaps it’s pride, a keen sense of fair play or even short-sightedness.

So, back to the question — where from here?

I, sadly, have been in similar situations, and as much as I hoped it would all just go away, that someone else would solve it, or that time and time alone would provide the answers, I was forced to come to the conclusion that any real or lasting solution was up to me.

The only things I had to decide were how much harder I wanted to make it, and how much more damage needed to be done before I accepted responsibility.

As I said, there has been nothing typical about these negotiations, so predicting the next move or how these guys will get themselves out of it is a mug’s game. Perhaps the depth of their pockets is a factor the rest of us can’t appreciate.

The next move has already been announced by Gary Bettman: “Step back and take a deep breath.” Unfortunately, there is no obvious plan after that. Whatever the method, it is time to get real. It is time for both parties to realize how far they have come and how close they are to the finish line.

A war of attrition and a battle of wills might satisfy these combatants, but it’s becoming pretty obvious the product can’t take much more abuse.

Dan Oldfield is the lead negotiator for the Canadian Media Guild, a former journalist, and a longtime hockey fan.

Harper’s support for Israel: Political, philosophical or both?

In 2010, while addressing an anti-Semitism conference in Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched into a full-throttle defence of Israel, saying that whatever the political cost, he would take a stand against those who would single out the Jewish state for condemnation.

And most supporters and critics of his agree that he has been true to his word. Whether Harper’s unwavering support of Israel is part of a cynical political strategy to gain votes among the Jewish community, or part of a deeply held conviction, he has ignored criticism that Canada has abandoned its role as an honest broker in the Middle East.

“I think this is one of those happy incidences in politics where personal principle collides with or intersects with political self-interest, “said communications consultant Gerry Nicholls, who worked with Harper at the National Citizens Coalition, a conservative think-tank.

Harper’s strong support of Israel was revealed again recently, when Canada found itself among only a handful of countries voting against the Palestinian bid for observer state status in the UN.

And the Harper government seemed to be alone in the world community in its reluctance to publicly condemn Israel’s announcement to build housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, even though it’s at odds with Canada’s position on settlements in the occupied territories.

Long-held conviction

Nicholls said he and Harper would discuss Israel from time to time during their stint at National Citizens Coalition, and that Harper was always very sympathetic to Israel.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird addresses the United Nations General Assembly to oppose the Palestinian bid for observer state status.Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird addresses the United Nations General Assembly to oppose the Palestinian bid for observer state status. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

“In our conversations, he’d say ‘Gerry, I’m very pro-Israel.’ And this is not something he needed to say for votes, this is not something he needed to say for cynical political advancement, because he was just saying it to me,” Nicholls said.

“He was always saying that Canada needs to do more to support Israel, they’re an important ally. So I think it’s just a matter of his own personal beliefs.”

But Nicholls said that Harper’s position on Israel also helps him out politically, by mobilizing his base, particularly those among the Christian right who tend to be strongly pro-Israel.

However, Nicholls rejected the idea that Harper’s support for Israel stems from any personal religious conviction.

“He looks at Israel not in terms of their religion. He doesn’t look at them as being Jews. He looks at them as being people who uphold Western values.”

Jewish voter support increasing

Support for Conservatives, who have targeted Jewish ridings, has also increased among Jewish voters, who have traditionally parked their votes with the Liberal Party. According to an Ipsos Reid exit poll for the last election, 52 per cent of Jewish voters supported the Tories.

And a recent Nanos poll suggests that while half of Canadians prefer the government favour neither side, 19 per cent said the government should support Israel and only six per cent said it should favour the Palestinians.

Lawrence Martin, Globe and Mail columnist and author of the book Harperland: The Politics of Control, agreed that Harper’s stance on Israel is driven by both political benefit and genuine conviction.

“He is a longtime supporter of Israel, sees it as a perennially threatened beacon of democracy and freedom in a region of violence and chaos. He has never had much kinship with the Arab world,” Martin said via email.

But Harper’s policy toward Israel, Martin said, has also been a major political success for him and “has won him strong support from a very important community and it has allowed him to cast himself as a principled leader.”

Diplomatic shift toward Israel

Nowhere is this support more evident than at the United Nations. Harold Waller, a political science professor at McGill University, who specializes in Jewish political studies, said that while previous Canadian governments were supportive of Israel, Canada was somewhat mushy when it came to UN resolutions critical of Israel, and often abstained.

While there was a shift at the UN under the Paul Martin government to be more supportive of Israel, it increased under the Harper government.

“I think Harper’s backing of Israel is unprecedented for any Canadian prime minister. He’s much more a staunch supporter of Israel than any of his predecessors,” Waller said.

In 2006, during the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, when many nations criticized Israel for using disproportionate force, Harper said the Israeli response had been “measured.”

The prime minister was also reportedly the lone holdout of the final communiqué from the G8 meeting in France last year dealing with Israel, and was able to remove a reference about Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

As well, Canada became the first country to announce it would review aid to the Palestinians following the parliamentary elections in 2006 that saw Hamas come to power. It also become the first country to announce it would not take part in the UN anti-racism conferences of 2009 and 2011, accusing those conferences of being forums to criticize Israel.

In 2010 then foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon raised some eyebrows when he condemned Israel’s announcement to build 1,600 apartments in east Jerusalem, saying that “we feel that this is contrary to international law and therefore condemn it. We’re very concerned with what is taking place.”

His office quickly followed up, denying the government was escalating its language or changing its position on Israel, but also did not repeat Cannon’s language that Israel’s building plans were “contrary to international law.”

And with Israel’s announcement last week that it would build 3,000 more housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, government officials again seemed reluctant to specifically condemn the actions, only saying that “unilateral action by either side is not helpful.”

Nicholls, who has been critical of Harper in the past, accusing the prime minister of compromising some of his conservative principles, praised Harper’s consistency on the issue of Israel, saying it’s one of the few cases “where Stephen Harper NCC president is in perfect synch with Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada.”

“NCC president Stephen Harper would be saying the same thing and you don’t often get that. I think most often NCC Stephen Harper would be raging at Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but this is one thing they’d both agree on.”

Tories misled Canadians on F-35, opposition MPs charge

The government has consistently misled Canadians and is continuing to hide the true cost of the F-35 fighter jets being considered to replace the military’s aging CF-18s, opposition MPs charged Friday.

“I don’t see how the minister of defence [Peter MacKay] can possibly continue in his job,” interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said.

“He’s basically been a sales spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, the manufacturers of the F-35 since he took office. He’s denigrated and attacked every person in opposition, in the Liberal Party or elsewhere, who has ever raised concerns or questions about this.”

The Conservative government says it has not made a decision on the F-35 as a replacement for Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets, but it now appears to concede that alternative fighter purchase options will be considered.

The Prime Minister’s Office denied a media report Thursday that the F-35 purchase was dead, calling the report “inaccurate on a number of fronts” and promising to update the House of Commons on its seven-point plan to replace the jets before the House rises for the Christmas break at the end of next week.

That plan is now expected to follow through with a real competition and statement of requirements, something that the initial process lacked. Depending on the result of the competition, Canada could follow through with the F-35 purchase, choose another aircraft instead, or buy different planes to suit different needs. A frequently mentioned alternative to the F-35 is the Boeing Super Hornet, a new version of the F-18.

A spokesman for MacKay said he is not resigning and echoed a statement by Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose from the night before.

“Rae’s comments are puzzling. Despite speculation the government hasn’t announced anything. Our government is continuing to move forward with our seven-point plan. The government will be providing a comprehensive public update before the House rises,” Jay Paxton said.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Twitter that MacKay would not be resigning.

“Not going to happen,” Andrew MacDougall tweeted to a Liberal staffer. “Full confidence in [Peter MacKay].”

‘Completely and totally untrue’

Speaking in Toronto, Rae said all of what the government has said “has been shown to be completely and totally untrue.”

“The government has consistently misled Canadians about the true cost of this aircraft. They’ve misled Canadians about their degree of oversight and their readiness to deal with the situation,” he said.

External reviews

The Public Works secretariat now managing the purchase of replacements for Canada’s aging CF-18 fleet has contracted out two reviews of the work done previously on the F-35 file.

Audit firm KPMG was contracted to study the costs of the original F-35 purchase the government first announced in 2010. This report is complete and findings may be made public as soon as Wednesday.

Another tender was issued in late October for a firm to study how things worked inside the military’s procurement process up to last June, when the Harper government put the brakes on the original purchase and put in place its seven-point plan. That contract, expected to be awarded this month, will measure whether problems identified with the process have been addressed.

After Auditor General Michael Ferguson questioned the military’s figures last April, the Harper government promised to “hit the reset button” on the entire purchase. An “options analysis” would consider the alternative fighter jets that may meet the military’s needs.

Part of that process for replacing the aircraft is an audit of the F-35’s costs by accounting firm KPMG. The government said Thursday it now has the report and is reviewing it.

CBC News has learned the KPMG report is based on a longer and more realistic life cycle for the next-generation stealth fighter, which would therefore also arrive with a higher price tag than previously reported. The actual cost could be as high as $40 billion.

The cost of the F-35 project was first pegged at $9 billion for 65 planes when it was announced by the government more than two years ago, but successive reports by the parliamentary budget officer and federal auditor general put the total cost to buy and maintain the planes at $25 billion or more.

Public Works took over the process for procuring a CF-18 replacement earlier this year, extending the original deadlines for its work “to get it right.”

Conservative MPs defend MacKay

Opposition MPs devoted much of Friday’s question period to questions about the F-35, with the Liberals focusing on whether MacKay will step down.

MacKay was in the House of Commons but didn’t stand to take any questions, allowing Government House Leader Peter Van Loan and Ambrose’s parliamentary secretary, Jacques Gourde, to respond instead.

MacKay paused briefly on his way out of the House to say there had been a lot of speculation over the past 24 hours.

“What I can tell you is we’re following the seven-point plan as we have been now for some months and into next week there will be an open and transparent discussion about the next steps that are going to follow in the CF-18 replacement,” MacKay said.

MacKay didn’t answer when asked whether the cost would be $40 billion.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris said Prime Minister Stephen Harper should take responsibility for having appointed MacKay as minister and for the process to select new fighter jets.

‘Process is in a shambles’

“The whole process is in a shambles, quite frankly,” Harris told reporters outside the House.

“This is not good enough. We’ve got enough misleading information out there in front of the public…. They didn’t do their due diligence, they didn’t have an open, fair and transparent process.

“They’ve demonstrated their incompetence in a $40-billion-plus contract.”

Harris also pointed to the long-running Conservative attacks on anyone who questioned their cost estimate of the F-35, including that of Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, whose projected cost was confirmed by Ferguson’s report.

A statement from Ambrose’s office on Thursday said the government will provide “a comprehensive public update” before the House rises.

“We are committed to completing the seven point plan and moving forward with our comprehensive, transparent approach to replacing Canada’s aging CF-18 aircraft,” the statement said.

The government has long maintained the F-35 was the only plane that met Canada’s needs. But last week, Gen. Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff, told MPs there are other planes with stealth capabilities.

A spokesperson for Lockheed Martin referred questions to the Department of National Defence.

“Lockheed Martin has been a partner with the Canadian Forces for more than 50 years. We continue to look forward to supporting the Canadian government as they work to provide their air force fifth-generation capability for their future security needs,” the spokesperson said.

With files from James Cudmore and CBC News

Kate nurse who took hoax call found dead

The nurse who took a hoax call from two Australian broadcasters at the hospital treating the Duchess of Cambridge in London earlier this week has been found dead, King Edward VII’s Hospital confirmed today.

The hospital said Jacintha Saldanha had been a victim of the call made by two Australian radio disc jockeys.

Saldhana was the first to answer the call Tuesday from two Australian broadcasters posing as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles seeking information about the condition of the duchess.

Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was admitted to hospital earlier this week with severe morning sickness early into her pregnancy. Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was admitted to hospital earlier this week with severe morning sickness early into her pregnancy. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

Her first responses and those of a second nurse to whom she transferred the call were recorded and broadcast.

Kate had been admitted to the hospital on Monday, suffering from acute morning sickness.

“This is a tragic event,” hospital chairman Lord Glenarthur said in a statement. “Jacintha was a first-class nurse who cared diligently for hundreds of patients during her time with us. She will be greatly missed.”

The hospital added: “We can confirm that Jacintha was recently the victim of a hoax call to the hospital. The hospital had been supporting her throughout this difficult time.”

Prince William and Kate issued a statement saying they were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Saldanha.

Australian broadcaster Mel Greig of 2DayFM in Sydney. Australian broadcaster Mel Greig of 2DayFM in Sydney. (2DayFM)

Australian broadcaster Michael Christian of 2DayFM in Sydney. Australian broadcaster Michael Christian of 2DayFM in Sydney. (2DayFM)

“Their Royal Highnesses were looked after so wonderfully well at all times by everybody at King Edward VII Hospital, and their thoughts and prayers are with Jacintha Saldanha’s family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time,” the palace statement said.

In the call from Australia on Tuesday, a woman doing a less-than-perfect imitation of Queen Elizabeth asked about the duchess’s health.

She was told by a second nurse who took the call from Saldanha that the duchess, the former Kate Middleton, “hasn’t had any retching with me, and she’s been sleeping on and off.”

The nurse went on to tell the personalities that Kate had had an uneventful night. The phoney queen and prince talked about travelling to the hospital to check in on the patient.

The hospital said it supported Saldanha in the aftermath of the call and that its phone protocols were under review.

Scotland Yard said initially today that they were treating a woman’s death as “unexplained.”

Paramedics had been unable to revive her.

The Royal College of Nursing in the U.K. issued a statement that said, “It is deeply saddening that a simple human error due to a cruel hoax could lead to the death of a dedicated and caring member of the nursing profession.”

In Australia, people quickly began to attack the perpetrators of the hoax call, 2DayFM personalities Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who had apologized for the prank.

“The best you deserve is to lose all of your listeners and be closed down,” wrote one commenter. “Who is going to take responsibility for this??”

The station said Friday that Greig and Christian were “deeply saddened by the tragic news” of the nurse’s death.

The statement announced that the pair have agreed not to comment on the “circumstances” and that they and the station “have decided that they will not return to their radio show until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy.”.

Barclays seals its push to become Africa’s largest bank

The all-share deal will see Barclays’ stake in Absa raised from 55.5 per cent to 62.3 per cent, and is the final stage in a long-term plan driven by the former chief executive Bob Diamond.

Johannesburg-listed Absa will be renamed Barclays Africa, but it will continue to use the Absa brand in South Africa. The bank will have 14.4 million customers.

Hamleys proves its worth to the French as profits leap to £2.3m

The retailer, which is 252 years old, also said it plans to continue its expansion in 2013 under its new owner, the toy specialist Groupe Ludendo, after opening a Hamleys shop in Cardiff in November and eight stores overseas in the past year. These included its first store in Russia, as well as shops in India, Sweden and the Middle East, to take its total outside the UK and Ireland to 20.

Hamleys’ chief executive, Gudjon Reynisson, said: “Groupe Ludendo is a strong partner for Hamleys.”

The retailer increased its pre-tax profits by more than 250 per cent to £2.3m in the 53 weeks to 31 March, driven by a 6.3 per cent leap in underlying sales.