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Orban loyalist caught in Brussels lockdown-busting ‘sex party’

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A close ally of Hungary’s conservative Catholic leader Viktor Orban was caught by Brussels police in a lockdown-busting gathering described by Belgian media as a sex party.

Jozsef Szajer, a veteran Hungarian MEP, resigned from the European parliament at the weekend before apologising on Tuesday for breaching Covid-19 restrictions by attending the all-male party last week. The married politician, a pillar of Mr Orban’s nationalistic party Fidesz, helped draft a constitution widely seen as hostile to LGBT rights.

It is the third high-profile resignation in 18 months of senior Fidesz figures, just as Mr Orban is engaged in a dispute with Brussels over the EU’s €1.8tn budget and recovery fund. The Hungarian leader and his Polish counterpart are threatening to veto the budget because they oppose a plan to tie the release of EU recovery funds to the rule of law.

Mr Szajer said on Tuesday he had been present at a Brussels party on Friday night where — according to a statement on Tuesday by the city prosecutor’s office — 20 men were caught and fined €250 each. The Belgian prosecutor added that a man had been spotted escaping via a gutter and had later been found by police with bloody hands and drugs in his backpack.

Mr Szajer said in a statement that he disclosed his MEP status to police, who issued him with an official verbal warning and transported him home. He added that the drugs — which he said had been a single ecstasy tablet — did not belong to him.

“I deeply regret violating the COVID restrictions. It was irresponsible on my part. I am ready to stand for the fine that occurs,” Mr Szajer said. The FT could not immediately reach him for comment on the local media reports of the nature of the party.

The Fidesz caucus in the European People’s party — the mainstream centre-right group that also includes the Christian Democrats of Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor — said Mr Szajer made the “only right decision” when he resigned as an MEP. Before his resignation, Mr Szajer had been a vice-chair and chief whip of the EPP.

Mr Szajer, a founding member of Fidesz more than three decades ago, has said he drafted much of Hungary’s existing constitution on his iPad on the train between the European parliament’s twin bases in Brussels and Strasbourg. That document, implemented after Mr Orban returned to power in 2010, contains provisions including defining marriage as an institution “between a man and a woman”. The family, the constitution reads, is “the basis of national survival” and “the mother is a woman, the father is a man.”

Fidesz uses conservative Christian rhetoric and Laszlo Kover, the speaker of parliament, has compared homosexuality to paedophilia. In spring, the government made it illegal for people to change their birth gender.



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Emerging Markets

NYSE to suspend trading of China’s Cnooc next month

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The New York Stock Exchange is to start delisting proceedings against China National Offshore Oil Corporation to comply with an executive order from Donald Trump that bans Americans from investing in companies with ties to the Chinese military.

The NYSE on Friday said it would suspend trading in Cnooc’s American depository shares on March 9, after determining that the company was “no longer suitable for listing” following the order that the former US president signed in November.

The order banned investing in several dozen Chinese groups that were last year put on a Pentagon blacklist of companies that are accused of working with the People’s Liberation Army and threatening US security. Trump set a January 28 deadline for the ban to take effect, but President Joe Biden pushed the deadline back to May 27.

The NYSE move comes as Biden evaluates a number of assertive actions that Trump took against China during his last year in office. The commerce department last year put Cnooc on a separate blacklist — called the “entity list” — that makes it hard for US companies to sell products and technology to the Chinese oil group.

The Biden administration has not made clear whether it intends to keep Trump’s executive order in place. But the new president and his officials have so far adopted a tough stance towards China over everything from its economic “coercion” to concerns about its clampdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong to the repression of more than 1m Uighur Muslims in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang.

Earlier this month, Biden used his first conversation with Chinese president Xi Jinping since assuming office to raise concerns about Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and aggressive Chinese actions towards Taiwan. Antony Blinken, secretary of state, also described the detention of Uighurs in labour camps as “genocide”.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, has said the administration was conducting a number of “complex reviews” of the China actions that Trump took. The former president put dozens of other Chinese companies on the Pentagon and commerce department blacklists, including Huawei, the Chinese telecoms equipment group.



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Bond sell-off roils markets, ex-Petrobras chief hits back, Ghana’s first Covax vaccines

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The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury exceeded 1.5 per cent for the first time in a year and the outgoing head of Petrobras warns Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro against state controlled fuel prices. Plus, the FT’s Africa editor, David Pilling, discusses the Covax vaccine rollout in low-income countries. 

Wall Street stocks sell off as government bond rout accelerates

https://www.ft.com/content/ea46ee81-89a2-4f23-aeff-2a099c02432c

Ousted Petrobras chief hits back at Bolsonaro 

https://www.ft.com/content/1cd6c9fb-3201-4815-9f4f-61a4f0881856?

Africa will pay more for Russian Covid vaccine than ‘western’ jabs

https://www.ft.com/content/ffe40c7d-c418-4a93-a202-5ee996434de7


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Petrobras/Bolsonaro: bossa boots | Financial Times

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“Brazil is not for beginners.” Composer Tom Jobim’s remark about his homeland stands as a warning to gung-ho foreign investors. Shares in Petrobras have fallen almost a fifth since President Jair Bolsonaro said he would replace the widely respected chief executive of the oil giant.

Firebrand Bolsonaro campaigned on a free-market platform. Now he is reverting to the interventionism of leftist predecessors. It is the latest reminder that a country with huge potential has big political and social problems.

Bolsonaro reacted to fuel protests by pushing for a retired army general to supplant chief executive Roberto Castello Branco, who had refused to lower prices. This is politically advantageous but economically short-sighted.

Fourth-quarter ebitda beat expectations at R$60bn (US$11bn), announced late on Wednesday, a 47 per cent increase on the previous quarter. This partly reflected the reversal of a R$13bn charge for healthcare costs. Investors now have to factor the cost of possible fuel subsidies into forecasts. The last time Petrobras was leaned on, it set the company back about R$60bn (US$24bn at the time). That equates to 40 per cent of forecast ebitda for 2021.

At just over 8 times forward earnings, shares trade at a sharp discount to global peers. Forcing Petrobras to cut fuel prices will make sales of underperforming assets harder to pull off and debt reduction less certain. Bidders may fear the obligation to cap prices will apply to them too.

A booming local stock market, rock bottom interest rates and low levels of foreign debt are giving Bolsonaro scope to spend his way out of the Covid-19 crisis. But the economy remains precarious. Public debt stands at 90 per cent of gross domestic product. The real — at R$5.40 per US dollar — remains near record lows. Brazil’s credit is rated junk by big agencies.

Rising developed market yields will make financings costlier for developing nations such as Brazil. So will high-handed treatment of minority investors. It sends a dire signal when a government with an economic stake of just over a third uses its voting majority to deliver a boardroom coup.

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