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US issues warrant to seize Iranian tanker off Gibraltar

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The United States has issued a warrant to seize an Iranian oil tanker caught in the standoff between Tehran and the Westin a last ditch effort to prevent the vessel from leaving Gibraltar.

The Grace 1 was seized by British Royal Marines at the western mouth of the Mediterranean on July 4 on suspicion of violating European Union sanctions by taking oil to Syria.

Gibraltar lifted the detention order on Thursday after the British territory’s chief minister said he had secured written assurances from Tehran that the cargo would not go to Syria.

But with the vessel and its 2.1 million barrels of oil free to leave, the United States launched a separate legal appeal to impound the ship on the grounds that it had links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which it designates as a terrorist organization.

A federal court in Washington issued a warrant to seize the tanker, the oil it carries and nearly $1 million.

“A network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments,” the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Jessie Liu, said in a news release.

“The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC and furthered by the deceptive voyages of the Grace 1.”

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how the warrant, which was addressed to “the United States Marshal’s Service and/or any other duly authorized law enforcement officer,” may be enforced.

The Pentagon declined to comment, as did Britain’s Foreign Office.

Asked on Friday about the U.S. intervention, Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, said that would be subject to the jurisdiction of Gibraltar’s Supreme Court. “It could go back to the court absolutely.”

The Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper reported that the vessel was unlikely to sail before Sunday, citing an unnamed source who added that it was waiting for six new crew members including a captain to arrive.

The Grace 1 had its name erased and it was no longer flying a Panama flag.

Iranian state television had quoted Jalil Eslami, deputy head of the country’s Ports and Maritime Organisation, as saying the tanker would depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Iranian flag and renamed Adrian Darya.

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WeWork’s on-again off-again IPO delayed again

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People walk out of the co-working space WeWork in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

After a series of setbacks on the road to an initial public offering, the parent company of real estate start-up WeWork is delaying the move, sources told CNBC Monday.

However, no plans have been set on how long it’s delayed for, the sources said.

The move comes days after the We Company, WeWork’s parent company, announced sweeping corporate governance changes in an amended S-1 filing made public Friday.

The company is expected to decide on Monday evening whether it will proceed with the IPO this week, sources told Reuters requesting anonymity because the matter is confidential. The sources also told Reuters the We Company is considering delaying its initial public offering until October at the earliest, concerned that its stock market debut would be snubbed by many investors, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the potential IPO delay.

On Friday, We Co. announced plans to curb CEO and founder Adam Neumann’s voting power. The company said it changed its high-vote stock from 20 votes per share to 10 votes per share.

The company also eliminated a key provision that would have allowed Neumann’s wife, Rebekah, to lead the search for his successor should he ever become permanently disabled or deceased. Instead, WeWork’s board would pick a successor.

In addition to the power struggle at the company, the last $47 billion valuation for the real estate start-up was being slashed by $20 billion or even lower. SoftBank, WeWork’s biggest outside investor, was also reportedly pushing to shelve the IPO.

WeWork previously said it will list its shares on the Nasdaq under the ticker “WE.”

WeWork did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

CNBC’s Leslie Picker and Reuters contributed to this report.

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Saudi Arabia has to explain how its oil assets in Abqaiq were attacked, says ex-US diplomat

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Smoke billows from an Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq after drone attacks sparked fires at two Saudi Aramco oil facilities.

AFP | Getty Images

Saudi Arabia has “a great deal of explaining to do” on how it could not defend its “most critical” oil facility from drone attacks at the weekend, said Gary Grappo, former U.S. ambassador to Oman.

The Kingdom spent an estimated $67.6 billion on arms in 2018, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Saudi Arabia was just behind the U.S. and China in terms of defense spending, Grappo told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Tuesday.

“I think the Saudi leadership has a great deal of explaining to do that a country that ranks third in terms of total defense spending … was not able to defend its most critical, and I can’t underscore that enough, its most critical oil facility from these kinds of attacks,” said Grappo, who was previously in senior positions at the U.S. embassies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Baghdad, Iraq.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s largest oil exporters, and damage to its oil facilities ignited fears of supply disruption around the world.

It’s a bit alarming that these folks got through … they were exquisitely precise, they knew exactly what to hit, they hit it perfectly,

Bob McNally

Rapidan Energy Group

Oil prices jumped after the Saturday attack on Saudi Aramco’s oil processing facility at Abqaiq and the nearby Khurais oil field. That knocked out 5.7 million barrels of daily crude oil production — which is more than half of Saudi Arabia’s global daily exports and over 5% of the world’s daily crude production.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran for the attacks.

“We’re talking about drones. Now, drones are not so easily detectable but, nevertheless, they had to be able to see that this was a strong possibility given the previous attacks they’ve experienced in previous oil facility, airports and elsewhere,” said the former diplomat who is now a distinguished fellow at the University of Denver.

Saturday’s attack was not the first time that the Abqaiq oil processing plant was targeted. In 2006, security guards blocked an attempted attack by al-Qaida militants on the facility.

Bob McNally, founder and president of consultancy Rapidan Energy Group, said he was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the attack. He said he had expected Riyadh to “raise defenses,” especially after al-Qaida’s previous attempt to attack its facilities.

“It’s a bit alarming that these folks got through. We looked at those photos that were released by the Trump administration — they were exquisitely precise, they knew exactly what to hit, they hit it perfectly,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Tuesday.

“For all we know, they could come back. So, no grounds for complacency, in my view.”

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Hong Kong digital banks launch may face delays due to protests

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From left, the flags of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, China and Hong Kong are seen flapping in the wind on May 6, 2019.

Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images

The launch of new online-only banks in Hong Kong is expected to be delayed in part due to anti-government protests in the city, people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Most of the eight newly licensed digital banks in Hong Kong, including joint ventures involving Standard Chartered and Bank of China Hong Kong, had aimed to begin operating before the end of 2019.

But as protests stretch into a fourth month, the new banks, seen triggering the biggest shake-up to Hong Kong’s retail banking sector in years, will now launch early in 2020, the people told Reuters.

A delay would be the latest sign of the damage being wrought on the Asian financial hub’s economy due to the political turmoil that erupted in June.

Some of these so-called virtual banks had aimed to launch brand promotion campaigns as early as this month, but these plans have now been put off, the people said, on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter.

“This form of banking service is mainly aimed at the youth, millennials, and many of them are out on the street these days joining the protests,” a senior executive at a licence winner said.

“It will be difficult to launch a brand campaign around them and attract their interest when their priority is clearly not having another bank account,” said the executive, declining to be named as he was not authorized to talk to media.

More than 100 days of sometimes violent protests were sparked by a bill that would have drawn the semi-autonomous Chinese territory closer to the mainland Chinese legal system. The bill was withdrawn earlier this month, but the protests have since broadened into calls for universal suffrage.

Virtual banking permits

Hong Kong awarded virtual banking licences to three groups in March — joint ventures led by StanChart and BOC Hong Kong, and a subsidiary of the international arm of Chinese online insurer ZhongAn Online P&C Insurance.

The banks intended to launch services in six-to-nine months, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) said at that time.

Five more licences were issued later to joint ventures led by smartphone maker Xiaomi and Tencent, and a unit of Ant Financial among others.

HKMA said starting six-to-nine months after authorization was “not a rigid requirement”, but services were expected to be rolled out to the public in the fourth quarter at the earliest based on the virtual banks’ latest indications.

StanChart said its virtual bank joint venture was working towards a launch in early 2020. Livi VB Ltd, the virtual banking joint venture led by BOC Hong Kong, said it was working towards the launch in the near future. ZhongAn declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for the Xiaomi-led joint venture said the virtual banking business was in the preparation stage, while Ant said that work for its bank was progressing smoothly. Tencent led-Fusion bank did not respond to a request for comment.

Soft launch

A couple of the licence winners could still ‘soft launch’ in 2019, restricting services to staff and their families ahead of a full launch, the people said.

The virtual banks plan to offer savings accounts, credit cards, personal loans and travel insurance, and will try to take market share from HSBC, StanChart and some Chinese lenders who currently dominate retail banking in Hong Kong.

The launch delay is also partly due to the time required to build technology infrastructure, compliance and customer acquisition processes, and hire staff, the people said.

“This is about building a new bank from ground zero, with regulatory standards that are similar to traditional banks,” one person said.

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