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Trump loses Supreme Court appeal to shield tax records from NY prosecutor

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U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to address reporters about the 2020 U.S. presidential election results in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 5, 2020.

Carlos Barria | Reuters

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a last-ditch bid by former President Donald Trump to keep his financial records, including years of his tax returns, out of the hands of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr.

The decision, the second time the nation’s highest court has refused to block a grand jury subpoena for those confidential records, was announced in an order with no noted dissents.

The news further imperils the ex-president, who is facing investigations in New York and elsewhere.

The legal battle over Trump’s financial records, including personal and business documents dating to 2011, comes in connection with an investigation by Vance’s office into potential tax violations involving the Trump Organization.

Vance’s probe originally appeared to have been focused on hush money payments made on Trump’s behalf to two women who have said they had affairs with him. Trump has denied their claims.

But court records and news reports suggest prosecutors are now examining more serious allegations.

A court filing last summer by Vance indicated that the probe could be eyeing possible “insurance and bank fraud by the Trump Organization and its officers.” In another filing, a month later, prosecutor suggested they might be investigating Trump for potential tax crimes.

Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, told Congress in 2019 that Trump improperly inflated and deflated the value of his real estate assets for tax and insurance purposes.

Vance’s filings appeared to reference Cohen’s testimony. One filing by prosecutors cited a  New York Times report Trump engaged in “dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud.”

In a statement, Cohen said: “The Supreme Court has now proclaimed that no one is above the law. Trump will, for the first time, have to take responsibility for his own dirty deeds.”

In late 2020, Vance’s investigators requested records from three towns in Westchester County, N.Y., as part of the probe. The records relate to Trump’s 213-acre Seven Springs Estate site, which sprawls across those towns.

That property is one of several Trump assets that New York Attorney General Letitia James is eyeing as part of a civil investigation into whether the Trump Organization improperly inflated and deflated the value of certain properties to receive financial benefits from doing so.

The Wall Street Journal reported this month that Vance’s office also is eyeing loans Trump took out on Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, and three other properties in Manhattan: 40 Wall Street, the Trump Plaza apartment building and the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Vance wrote: “The work continues.”

A combination photo shows Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels speaking in New York City, and U.S. President Donald Trump speaking in Washington, Michigan, U.S. on April 16, 2018 and April 28, 2018 respectively.

Reuters

A spokesman for Vance, Danny Frost, said that the office would not comment further but indicated that it would quickly move to enforce its subpoena on the president’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA.

Representatives for the former president did not immediately return requests for comment.

The ruling comes three days after The New York Times reported that Vance’s office had retained a former federal prosecutor, Mark Pomerantz, who has extensive experience handling white-collar fraud cases, to work on the Trump investigation.

And it comes two days after Reuters reported that Vance’s office issued a subpoena to the New York Tax Commission.

People familiar with the municipal agency told the outlet that they expected the subpoena would demand income and expense statements that Trump’s company would have filed as part of requests for a reduction in tax assessments for commercial properties. The lower the assessed value a property has, the less the owner has to pay in property taxes on it.

Joseph Tacopina, a leading New York criminal defense lawyer, told CNBC last week that Vance’s persistence in seeking the tax records suggests he strongly believes they would show criminal conduct.

“Cy Vance is fighting way too hard for this case to fall down,” Tacopina said. “He seems to be on to something.”

The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday came in a single line: “The application for a stay presented to Justice Breyer and referred to the Court is denied.”

The one-line order was a marked contrast in form from the last time the top court weighed in on the dispute between Vance and Trump, while the latter was still president.

In July, the top court sided 7-2 against Trump in an opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts. Trump had argued at the time that, as president, he was immune from state criminal investigations.

Roberts, in the opinion, wrote that such immunity did not exist.

“In our judicial system, ‘the public has a right to every man’s evidence.’ Since the earliest days of the Republic, ‘every man’ has included the President of the United States,” he wrote at the time.

But the court said that Trump could still bring challenges along other lines against enforcement of the subpoena, which he did.

In October, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals again rejected Trump’s arguments. Later that month, Trump’s attorneys once again asked the Supreme Court to step in.

The court’s silence on the October petition, as the election between Trump and soon-to-be President Joe Biden heated up, was taken by some to indicate that the justices did not want to become engaged in the political drama between the two men.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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Powell calls cryptocurrencies ‘vehicles for speculation’

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Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell holds a news conference following the Federal Reserve’s two-day Federal Open Market Committee Meeting in Washington, July 31, 2019.

Sarah Silbiger | Reuters

Cryptocurrencies are largely for making bets on price increases and haven’t reached the status of payment mechanisms yet, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday.

“They’re really vehicles for speculation,” the central bank leader told The Economic Club of New York in a virtual interview with David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group. “They’re not really being actively used as payments.”

Powell compared crypto to gold.

“For thousands of years, human beings have given gold a special value that it doesn’t have” as an industrial metal, he said.

The comments come the same day as Coinbase goes public in a direct listing on the Nasdaq, an exchange that is weighted with tech companies.

Coinbase is the predominant exchange for trading bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. It opened at $381 a share, well above its $250 reference price. The company said it generated $1.8 billion in revenue for the first quarter amid wild price gains for bitcoin, ethereum and other crypto names.

Powell’s predecessor at the Fed, Janet Yellen, is now Treasury secretary. In February, she told CNBC that she views bitcoin as “a highly speculative asset” and said it is not “widely used as a transmission mechanism” and is an “extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions.”

Along with a brief chat about crypto, the Powell interview encompassed a variety of other subjects, much of it familiar ground for the Fed leader.

One revelation was that Powell has yet to meet with President Joe Biden.

Fed watchers have been speculating as to whether Biden will give Powell another term as chair when the current one expires in 2022. Asked in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday on whether he wants another term, Powell demurred, saying he’s focused on “doing the best job I can.”

Powell said he has had no contact with Biden since the latter became president nearly three months ago.

Asked if he’s ever met Biden, Powell said, “I think I’ve shaken his hand, but I have not really met him and talked to him.”

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Xpeng Motors launches P5 Lidar electric car to rival Tesla in China

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Xpeng Motors launches the P5 sedan at an event in Guangzhou, China on April 14, 2021. The P5 is Xpeng’s third production model and features so-called Lidar technology.

Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

GUANGZHOU, China — Chinese electric vehicle maker Xpeng Motors launched the P5 on Wednesday, a sedan with new self-driving features, as it looks to race ahead in China’s ultra-competitive auto market.

The P5, Xpeng’s third production model and second sedan after the P7, adds another competitor to Tesla’s Model 3 in China’s increasingly crowded field of electric car-makers.

The Chinese firm, a rival to domestic players Nio and Li Auto, said it will release its pricing at the Shanghai Auto Show on Apr. 19.

But in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, Xinzhou Wu, vice president in charge of autonomous driving at Xpeng, said the P5 will be priced lower than the P7.

“At this price range with the features we put in the car, I think it will be quite compelling for our customers,” he said.

The P7 starts from 229,900 yuan ($35,192) after subsidies. In comparison, Tesla’s Model 3 in China starts at 249,900 yuan.

Wu said the P5 would roll out to customers in China in the third or fourth quarter of this year. Xpeng has also expanded into Norway, its first international market. Wu said that the company will expand its footprint in northern Europe and the P5 would eventually be launched there. He gave no timelines on when this might happen.

Driverless tech

Xpeng has tried to push the advancement of its self-driving features to differentiate from its competitors.

The P5 is equipped with so-called Lidar, or Light Detection and Ranging technology. Lidar systems send out lasers that bounce back and can measure distance. Those returning beams are processed by an algorithm to create a three dimensional representation of surrounding objects — a key technology for autonomous vehicles to understand their environment.

Xpeng claims that Lidar can help the P5 distinguish pedestrians, cyclists and scooters as well as road works — even at night and under low-light conditions.

On Wednesday, the Chinese vehicle maker also released a new version of XPILOT, its so-called advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS). This refers to a system with some autonomous features but where a driver is still required.

XPILOT 3.5 will have an updated version of a feature called Navigation Guided Pilot or NGP, which allows users to autonomously do tasks such as changing lanes or overtaking cars. Some of these features will work on city roads for the first time. Previously, NGP was just designed for highways.

Xpeng’s XPILOT is an attempt to compete with Tesla’s own ADAS system called Autopilot as well as other rivals like Nio with its Nio Pilot.

“In P7 we launched NGP … only on highways. But highway driving only occupies like 10% of peoples’ driving time. Being able to bring the technology and the capability to cities is very important to make the feature more usable and more compelling to Chinese customers,” Wu said.

In the city, Wu said the situation was becoming “exponentially” more difficult, citing challenges in ensuring the car can recognize objects in its path accurately and reliably. “We believe with Lidar … it will help us achieve our goal much faster and gives us an edge against our competitors.”

Competition heating up

China’s electric car market is expected to pick up this year with 1.9 million units expected to be sold, growing 51% year-on-year, according research firm Canalys.

Various incentives from the government, such as subsidies, have helped China become the biggest electric car market in the world. With that, a number of start-ups have grown rapidly such as Xpeng, Nio and Li Auto.

But these players are competing against traditional automakers who are boosting their electric vehicle capabilities as well as other technology firms entering into the fray.

Chinese search giant Baidu teamed up with Geely to create a standalone electric car company, while smartphone giant Xiaomi announced plans to launch an electric car business.

Last year, Xpeng delivered 27,041 vehicles, more than doubling from 2019. In comparison, Tesla’s Model 3 alone sold more than 137,000 units in 2020 in China.

Wu said Xpeng has developed a lot of technology which he believes gives the company an edge.

“We are definitely a step, a few steps ahead, you know as compared to most of our competitors. So we are pretty confident that we can win this race even with more newcomers into this space,” Wu told CNBC.

“We believe that with this kind of focus on the Chinese market, Chinese customers, Chinese road conditions and also the different technologies we bring together to make the tech better fitted to China market, I think we do have an edge as compared to Tesla in the China market.”

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ScottishPower plans hydrogen project using UK’s largest electrolyzer

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The proposed hydrogen project will be located near Whitelee Windfarm, a major facility near Glasgow, Scotland.

Billy Currie Photography | Moment | Getty Images

ScottishPower has submitted plans to develop a major “green” hydrogen facility that it says will use the U.K.’s largest electrolyzer.

In a statement earlier this week the energy company, a subsidiary of Spanish utility Iberdrola, said the project would be located near Glasgow, Scotland.

It’s envisaged that the development will use a 20 megawatt (MW) electrolyzer and be powered by a 40 MW solar farm and a battery storage scheme of 50 MW.

On Monday, ScottishPower said the project would also use wind power and be able to produce as much as 8 metric tons of green hydrogen every day. 

If authorities approve the plans, the facility could start supplying the commercial market before the year 2023.

Described by the International Energy Agency as a “versatile energy carrier,” hydrogen has a diverse range of applications and can be deployed in sectors such as industry and transport.

It can be produced in a number of ways. One method includes using electrolysis, with an electric current splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen. If the electricity used in the process comes from a renewable source such as wind or solar then some call it “green” or “renewable” hydrogen.

The project planned for Scotland will be situated near the U.K.’s largest onshore wind farm, the 539 MW, 215 turbine Whitelee facility.

ITM Power will deliver the electrolyzer while ScottishPower Renewables will provide the wind and solar power. Industrial gas company BOC will handle the development’s engineering and operations.

While the vast majority of today’s hydrogen generation is based on fossil fuels, the last few years have seen a number of companies develop projects centered around green hydrogen production.

In March, for example, it was announced that a major green hydrogen facility in Germany had started operations. The “WindH2” project, as it’s known, involves German steel giant Salzgitter, E.ON subsidiary Avacon and Linde, a firm specializing in engineering and industrial gases.

The same month also saw Danish energy company Orsted outline proposals to construct a large-scale offshore wind farm in the North Sea and link it to renewable hydrogen production on the European mainland.

Under the plans, Orsted would develop a 2 gigawatt (GW) offshore wind facility and 1 GW of electrolyzer capacity.

The company claims this would result in “one of the world’s largest renewable hydrogen plants to be linked to industrial demand.”

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