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Berkshire Hathaway Says Blue Chip Law Firm Aided Fraud



FRANKFURT — Berkshire Hathaway may have found a way to get back some of the hundreds of millions of dollars it lost after buying a seemingly solid German pipe maker that turned out to be on the verge of going bust.

The conglomerate, led by Warren E. Buffett, is suing Jones Day, the law firm that represented the owners of the pipe maker when it was sold to a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary in 2017. The lawsuit, filed late last month, accuses Jones Day of helping to trick Berkshire Hathaway into paying five times what the German company was worth.

There is not much chance that Berkshire Hathaway will recover any money from the sellers of the pipe maker, Wilhelm Schulz, which was named for its founder. The shareholders have declared bankruptcy and are facing a criminal investigation in Germany. But Jones Day is a prominent international law firm with deeper pockets.

The attempt to collect damages from Jones Day is an unexpected twist in the saga of Wilhelm Schulz, which is based in Krefeld, a city north of Düsseldorf. If the suit is successful, it will be at least a small consolation to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders after the company lost $23.3 billion in the first half of 2020. (Profits rebounded in the later part of the period, however.)

“The fraudulent transaction would never have occurred without Jones Day’s substantial assistance,” according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Houston on behalf of Precision Castparts, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary that makes components for aircraft. The lawsuit accuses Jones Day of withholding documents that would have exposed Wilhelm Schulz’s perilous financial state and calls the firm a “co-conspirator” in a “massive fraud.”

Ulrich Brauer, the partner in charge of Jones Day’s office in Düsseldorf, said the firm would not comment on a pending case.

Jones Day lawyers in Houston and Düsseldorf handled the sale of Wilhelm Schulz, which specializes in pipes for the oil and gas industries. Jones Day also represented the owners, who included Wolfgang Schulz, the son of the founder, when the case went before an arbitration panel in New York.

The panel found in April that Mr. Schulz and other managers had used false sales invoices, computer hacks and phantom customers to make Wilhelm Schulz look healthier than it was and hoodwink Precision Castparts into paying a grossly inflated price. The deal was a rare misstep for the organization run by Mr. Buffett, who is considered one of the savviest investors in the world.

The arbitrators awarded 643 million euros ($756 million) in damages to Precision Castparts, which is based in Portland, Ore. That is the difference between the €800 million that Precision Castparts paid for Wilhelm Schulz and its estimated true value of €157 million. The arbitrators’ decision was upheld in July by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Because the holding company controlled by Mr. Schulz is in insolvency proceedings, “it is unclear if it will pay even a fraction of the damages it caused,” according to the lawsuit on behalf of Precision Castparts, which says Jones Day should pay the arbitrators’ award instead.

German prosecutors are pursuing a criminal investigation of Mr. Schulz and others involved in the deal but have not filed any charges. A spokesman for the Düsseldorf state’s attorney’s office, citing German privacy laws, said he could not divulge any information about potential suspects. Mr. Schulz has denied wrongdoing.

Normally a law firm’s communications with clients would be considered privileged, offering a degree of protection to Jones Day. The firm has asked a Texas court to seal the case on those grounds.

But Precision Castparts argues that lawyer-client confidentiality cannot be used to cover up fraud under German or United States law.

In addition, the claims against Jones Day are based on files discovered in Wilhelm Schulz offices after the acquisition, according to the lawsuit. Finders keepers, in other words.

The suit was filed on Precision Castparts’ behalf by Reid Collins & Tsai in Austin, Texas, a law firm that specializes in suing other law firms.

ImageWarren Buffett in 2019.
Credit…Scott Morgan/Reuters

The text of the lawsuit against Jones Day has been partly redacted while a Texas judge decides whether the firm is entitled to keep some information confidential. But the central allegation is clear: that Jones Day was aware of information that would have revealed Wilhelm Schulz’s dire financial condition, but failed to disclose it to Precision Castparts.

For example, Schulz had fallen behind on repaying a €325 million loan from Commerzbank. In return for a bridge loan, the bank negotiated new terms that gave it the right to take control of Schulz if the company defaulted.

Wilhelm Schulz “was the corporate equivalent of a house about to go into foreclosure,” the lawsuit says. But Precision Castparts never knew about the revised loan agreement because Jones Day withheld it, the lawsuit contends.

Jones Day also did not disclose a report by the consulting firm KPMG, commissioned by Schulz, which concluded that the company faced an “imminent liquidity crisis,” according to the lawsuit. Nor, the suit says, did Jones Day inform Precision Castparts that a German lawyer had warned Wilhelm Schulz managers that they were legally obligated to declare bankruptcy.

“Had Precision known the truth,” the lawsuit says, “it would have never acquired the Schulz subsidiaries.”


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How your finances during the pandemic are like science fiction and a horror movie



October 23, 2020 6 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Fortunately, there are powerful tools to prevent further financial ruin, in both the public and private sectors: forgiveness and deferral .

What do those two terms mean?

Before we discuss the differences between the two terms, let’s talk about their great similarity. Both allow you to temporarily stop paying what you owe on your debts. Whether it’s your mortgage, your student loans, or even your credit cards, forgiveness and deferral means you are exempt from making payments due to an extreme situation.

These terms existed before COVID-19 , but obviously, it has been shown to be the most extreme situation of our lives. So not only the federal government offers these debt relief programs, but many private lenders as well. Sounds great! What could go wrong?

This is the problem

You should think of payment forgiveness and payment deferral as holding time. Just like in sci-fi movies, when time freezes and everyone stops in your path, so do your lenders.

Image: Michael Longmire via Unsplash

The time stops. But like those sci-fi movies, it doesn’t stop for everyone. Some characters escape the freezing of time. They walk through the frozen landscape, they keep doing things and moving through the plot.

The same happens when you are in forgiveness or deferment of payments. But what keeps moving is not the plot, but the interest rates. In most cases, you have obtained a deferment to pay your debt, but not for the interest that accrues on your debt.

Let’s say you’ve been laid off or laid off due to COVID-19, and you have a $ 1,000 balance on your credit card, which has an interest rate of 20%. You call the number on the back of your card and ask for help. Almost all credit card issuers offer some type of program that lowers or eliminates penalties or even allows payments to be missed.

Here’s the thing: as long as your payments are frozen, your interest rate is not. Keep running, adding up more charges that you will have to pay once they thaw.

Postponement vs forgiveness of payments

So you ask yourself, does this interest rate situation apply to both deferral and forgiveness of payments? And, in any case, what is the difference between them?

As Business Insider has so eloquently stated, “These two relief options are very similar, and many people use them interchangeably – yes, even loan and finance professionals.”

Most of the time they work the same, however, they differ in:

Deferral usually means that interest does not accrue while you are not making payments. Forgiveness of payments usually means that interest does accrue.

However, you can’t trust those words, you have to look closely at the fine print of any deal you make with your lenders. You may find that you are signing a strange combination of these two terms. For example, there may be an interest rate freeze for several months, but if you continue to freeze payments, the interest rates will go back into effect.

There is a big problem with both terms

Let’s say you are already 30 days behind in paying a debt when the forgiveness or deferral period began. Unfortunately, your lenders don’t forget that fact. You will not be charged late fees and penalties during the period of deferment or forgiveness of payments, but it will not change your circumstances from the previous days .

That is why I am so concerned about these pandemic-related programs. Don’t get me wrong, I think they are powerful tools to prevent those who live in America from sinking into deep debt that they will never get out of. However, they have a history of not thinking long-term when it comes to debt.

Delaying Debt Doesn’t Eliminate It

This should be a daily mantra for anyone using deferral or forgiveness during this pandemic. Although you can delay payments without accruing interest, you still have a big problem: you still owe the money.

Going back to the science fiction analogy, just because your mortgage is frozen in time doesn’t mean your house is. Just because your car loan has been deferred doesn’t mean that vehicle wear and tear is frozen.

Image: Dylan Gillis via Unsplash

When you need to start paying again, you may also need to repair something in your home or car. So remember: Just because some debts can be frozen, the rest of your life is not .

If you’re not careful, that sci-fi movie can turn into a horror movie, and your spending will turn into a terrifying monster that you won’t be able to escape from.


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Moderator Kristen Welker Manages to Keep Order at Final Debate



She began with a plea for civility. “Please,” Kristen Welker instructed the men standing before her, “speak one at a time.”

For the most part on Thursday night, Ms. Welker got what she wanted.

In a high-stakes debut overseeing a presidential debate — taking charge of a candidate matchup that proved a bucking bronco for the previous moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News — Ms. Welker, an NBC anchor and correspondent, managed to restore order to a quadrennial institution that some believed could not be tamed.

No doubt, she benefited from Trump 2.0: A calmer president arrived onstage Thursday, a contrast with the candidate who derailed the proceedings in Cleveland last month. And she had a technological assist in the form of muted microphones, a novelty installed to keep the exchanges between Mr. Trump and his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., from going from civics to chaos.

But in a poised and crisp performance, Ms. Welker, 44, succeeded where Mr. Wallace was walloped. Battle tested by years of covering the Trump White House, she parried with the president and cut him off as needed; Mr. Trump, eager to shed voters’ memories of his unruly performance last month, mostly acquiesced.

Ms. Welker, the first Black woman to moderate a general-election presidential debate since Carole Simpson of ABC in 1992, entered the evening facing an onslaught of attacks from Mr. Trump, who this week called her “terrible.”

His aides dredged up her parents’ political donations in an effort to accuse her of bias; a photograph of her with Barack Obama at a White House holiday party emerged on right-wing websites. (Her attendance at Mr. Trump’s equivalent party in 2017 went unmentioned.)

Little of the pressure showed onscreen. Ms. Welker was polite but firm in guiding the discussion, offering chances for brief rebuttals but also taking control when the candidates threatened to go on a harangue, repeatedly urging, “We need to move on.”

When Mr. Trump descended into unverified accusations about the business dealings of Mr. Biden’s family — a key but unsubstantiated element of his closing campaign argument — Ms. Welker let the discussion play out, to a point. When the president compared Mr. Biden’s siblings to “a vacuum cleaner, sucking money,” Ms. Welker firmly cut him off: “OK, President Trump, thank you. We do need to move on.”

Mr. Trump granted Ms. Welker, or “Kristen” as he called her, a rarity in his dealings with journalists: some praise. “By the way, so far, I respect very much the way you’re handling this, I have to say,” he told Ms. Welker at one point — only a few hours after he disparaged her to his millions of Twitter followers.

Whether the president is as friendly to Ms. Welker in the days ahead is a very open question. But her achievement on Thursday night may be that viewers came away focused on the candidates and what they had to say (muted microphones and all) rather than on the moderator’s performance.

“First of all, I’m jealous,” Mr. Wallace said when asked for his thoughts on Fox News immediately after the debate ended. “I would have liked to be able to moderate that debate.”


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Appeals Court Says Uber and Lyft Must Treat California Drivers as Employees



OAKLAND, Calif. — Uber and Lyft must treat their California drivers as employees, providing them with the benefits and wages they are entitled to under state labor law, a California appeals court ruled Thursday.

The decision points to growing agreement between the state courts and lawmakers that gig workers do not have the independence necessary for them to be considered contractors.

The ruling by the California First District Court of Appeal is the result of a lawsuit brought by California’s attorney general and the city attorneys of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. The state and city agencies sued the ride-hailing companies in May to enforce a new state labor law that aimed to make gig workers into employees.

After a lower court ruled that Uber and Lyft must immediately comply and hire the drivers, the companies fought back. They threatened to shut down completely in California and appealed the decision, winning a last-minute reprieve from the appellate court while it considered the case.

Uber and Lyft did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday evening, but are unlikely to threaten a similar shutdown. The appellate court required them to develop plans to employ drivers in case the ruling did not go in their favor.

“When violation of statutory workplace protections takes place on a massive scale, as alleged in this case, it causes public harm over and above the private interest of any given individual,” the court wrote in its decision on Thursday.

State officials have argued that the companies must comply with the law, known as Assembly Bill 5, so that workers can obtain sick leave, overtime and other benefits — needs that have become especially pressing during the pandemic.

“Every other employer follows the law,” Matthew Goldberg, deputy city attorney with the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, told the appeals court during arguments last week. “This is dollars and wages and money that is being stolen from drivers by virtue of the misclassification.”

But Uber and Lyft have argued that they are technology companies, not transportation businesses. Employing drivers would force them to raise fares and hire only a small fraction of the drivers who currently work for them, they said.

The companies are sponsoring a ballot initiative to exempt them from the law and allow them to continue classifying drivers as independent contractors. The court gave Uber and Lyft a grace period, and if the ballot initiative is successful, it could throw the ruling into question.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.


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