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How US Coal Deal Warms Ukraine’s Ties With Trump

For the first time in Ukraine’s history, U.S. anthracite is helping to keep the lights on and the heating going this winter following a deal that has also helped to warm Kyiv’s relations with President Donald Trump.

The Ukrainian state-owned company that imported the coal told Reuters that the deal made commercial sense. But it was also politically expedient, according to a person involved in the talks on the agreement and power industry insiders.

On Trump’s side it provided much-needed orders for a coal-producing region of the United States which was a vital constituency in his 2016 presidential election victory.

On the Ukrainian side the deal helped to win favor with the White House, whose support Kyiv needs in its conflict with Russia, as well as opening up a new source of coal at a time when its traditional supplies are disrupted.

Trump’s campaign call to improve relations with the Kremlin alarmed the pro-Western leadership in Ukraine, which lost Crimea to Russia in 2014 and is still fighting pro-Moscow separatists.

However, things looked up when President Petro Poroshenko visited the White House on June 20 last year.

“The meeting with Trump was a key point, a milestone,” a Ukrainian government source told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

The Americans had set particular store by supplying coal to Ukraine. 

“I felt that for them it is important,” said the source, who was present at the talks that also included a session with Vice President Mike Pence.

Despite Trump’s incentives, U.S. utilities are shutting coal-fired plants and shifting to gas, wind and solar power.

Ailing U.S. mining companies are therefore boosting exports to Asia and seeking new buyers among eastern European countries trying to diversify from Russian supplies.

Trump, who championed U.S. coal producers on the campaign trail, pressed the message after meeting Poroshenko. 

“Ukraine already tells us they need millions and millions of metric tons right now,” he said in a speech nine days later. “We want to sell it to them, and to everyone else all over the globe who need it.”

The deal with Kyiv was sealed the following month, after which U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said: “As promised during the campaign, President Trump is unshackling American energy with each day on the job.”

The deal helped to “bolster a key strategic partner against regional pressures that seek to undermine U.S. interests,” Ross added, referring to past Russian attempts to restrict natural gas flows to its western neighbors.

A matter of necessity

Ukraine was once a major producer of anthracite, a coal used in power generation, but it has faced a shortage in recent winters as it lost control of almost all its mines in eastern areas to the separatists.

Along with South Africa, Ukrainian-owned mines in Russia have been the main source of anthracite imports but this is fraught with uncertainty. In the past Moscow has cut off gas supplies to the country over disputes with Kyiv, while the Ukrainian government considered forbidding anthracite imports from Russia in 2017 although no ban has yet been imposed.

Overall anthracite imports shot up to 3.05 million tons in the first 11 months of 2017 from just 0.05 million in all of 2013 — the year before the rebellion erupted.

Neighboring Poland, which Trump visited in July, is also turning increasingly to U.S. coal. Its imports from the United States jumped five-fold last year to 839,000 tons, data from the state-run ARP agency showed.

In July Ukrainian state-owned energy company Centrenergo announced the deal with U.S. company Xcoal for the supply of up to 700,000 tons of anthracite.

Centrenergo initially said it would pay $113 per ton for the first shipment, a price industry experts and traders told Reuters was expensive compared with alternatives.

However, chief executive Oleg Kozemko said the cost varied according to the quality of the coal delivered, so Centrenergo had paid around $100 per ton on average for the 410,000 tons supplied by the end of 2017.

Kozemko said in an interview that the U.S. deal was Centrenergo’s only viable option after three tenders it launched earlier last year had failed.

“The idea to sign a contract with Xcoal was a matter of necessity,” he said. “We had agreements but they didn’t work out, because the pricing that they discussed with us and that we signed an agreement on didn’t work out.”

Data on the state tenders registry and documents seen by Reuters show that two of the tenders failed due to a lack of bids, while the results of the third were cancelled.

If that contract had worked out, Centrenergo would have paid around $96 per ton, according to Reuters calculations based on the exchange rate at the time of the tender in April.

Energy expert Andriy Gerus told Reuters the Xcoal deal “probably helps Ukraine to build some good political connections with the USA and that is quite important right now.”

 

Mutual desire 

The anthracite for Centrenergo is mined in Pennsylvania, which backed Trump in 2016. This marked the first time a Republican presidential candidate had won the state since 1988, and followed Trump’s pledge to reverse the coal industry’s history of plant closures and lay-offs in recent years.

Centrenergo says it and Xcoal agreed the contract independently of their governments and without any political pressure. However, Kozemko said: “If talks between the heads of our countries helped in this, then we can only say thank you… It was a mutual desire.”

For the Ukrainian authorities, the diplomatic benefit is clear. When the first shipment of U.S. anthracite arrived in September, Poroshenko tweeted a photo of himself shaking hands with Trump in Washington. 

“As agreed with @realDonaldTrump, first American coal has reached Ukraine,” he wrote.

Poroshenko’s press service said the deal “is an exact example of when the friendly and warm atmosphere of one conversation helps strengthen the foundations of a strategic partnership in the interests of both sides for the future.”

The Washington meeting also discussed U.S.-Ukrainian military and technical cooperation. Soon after, the Trump administration said it was considering supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine to counter the Russian-backed separatists.

In late December the U.S. State Department announced that the provision of “enhanced defensive capabilities” had been approved.

Kozemko said the Xcoal deal was likely to be only the beginning of Centrenergo’s trade relations with the United States as it is currently holding talks on supplies of bituminous coal, a poorer quality variety.

“It’s good that we studied the U.S. market because we had never looked at it before. We see big prospects for bituminous coal,” he said, adding that other Ukrainian firms were thinking similarly. “We showed how to bring coal from America and they are following our lead.”

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Brazil Gov’t Acknowledges Pension Bill Going Nowhere

Brazil’s political affairs minister Carlos Marun said on Monday that passage of a bill to overhaul the country’s costly social security system has effectively ground to a halt in Congress and would become a campaign issue in this year’s election.

Marun spoke to reporters after the head of the Senate, Eunicio Oliveira, said the federal government’s military intervention in Rio de Janeiro would, by the rules of the country’s constitution, block any vote on pension reform or any other measure requiring a constitutional amendment.

But Marun acknowledged what President Michel Temer’s critics believe is the real reason for holding up a pension vote: the unpopular bill never gained enough support and the government faced certain defeat.

“We don’t have the votes. I couldn’t guarantee we would have the votes by the end of February,” he said. That was the government’s deadline for passing the bill before lawmakers turned their attention to securing their seats in the October general election.

Pension reform is the cornerstone policy in Temer’s efforts to bring a bulging budget deficit under control. Generous pension benefits and early retirement have turned social security into the main driver of a deficit that cost Brazil its investment grade.

Marun, the cabinet minister charged with mobilizing coalition support in Congress, said pension reform would become a key issue in the election campaign if Congress did not take it up again.

The legislation to streamline social security, which required amending the constitution, was lined up for a first vote in the lower house of Congress this week.

But on Friday the government ordered the army to take over command of police forces in Rio de Janeiro state in a bid to curb violence driven by drug gangs, an intervention that blocks any constitutional changes during its duration.

Temer decreed the Rio intervention through Dec. 31, his last day in office.

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Brazil Gov’t Acknowledges Pension Bill Going Nowhere

Brazil’s political affairs minister Carlos Marun said on Monday that passage of a bill to overhaul the country’s costly social security system has effectively ground to a halt in Congress and would become a campaign issue in this year’s election.

Marun spoke to reporters after the head of the Senate, Eunicio Oliveira, said the federal government’s military intervention in Rio de Janeiro would, by the rules of the country’s constitution, block any vote on pension reform or any other measure requiring a constitutional amendment.

But Marun acknowledged what President Michel Temer’s critics believe is the real reason for holding up a pension vote: the unpopular bill never gained enough support and the government faced certain defeat.

“We don’t have the votes. I couldn’t guarantee we would have the votes by the end of February,” he said. That was the government’s deadline for passing the bill before lawmakers turned their attention to securing their seats in the October general election.

Pension reform is the cornerstone policy in Temer’s efforts to bring a bulging budget deficit under control. Generous pension benefits and early retirement have turned social security into the main driver of a deficit that cost Brazil its investment grade.

Marun, the cabinet minister charged with mobilizing coalition support in Congress, said pension reform would become a key issue in the election campaign if Congress did not take it up again.

The legislation to streamline social security, which required amending the constitution, was lined up for a first vote in the lower house of Congress this week.

But on Friday the government ordered the army to take over command of police forces in Rio de Janeiro state in a bid to curb violence driven by drug gangs, an intervention that blocks any constitutional changes during its duration.

Temer decreed the Rio intervention through Dec. 31, his last day in office.

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Latvia’s Banking Sector Rocked by US Probe, Central Bank Chief’s Detention

Latvia’s ABLV Bank sought emergency support Monday after U.S. officials accused it of helping breach North Korean sanctions while the country’s central bank chief faced bribery allegations, turning up the spotlight on its financial system.

The Baltic country, which is a member of the euro zone and shares a border with Russia, has come under increasing scrutiny recently as a conduit for illicit financial activities.

Last year, two Latvian banks were fined more than 2.8 million euros ($3.26 million) for allowing clients to violate sanctions imposed by the European Union and United Nations on North Korea. Three others received smaller fines.

ABLV said it had sought temporary liquidity support from the central bank after depositors withdrew 600 million euros, about 22 percent of total deposits, following a warning by the United States that it was seeking to impose sanctions on the bank.

Latvia’s third-biggest lender denied wrongdoing.

“We don’t participate in any illegal activities,” ABLV Bank Deputy CEO Vadims Reinfelds told a news conference. “There are no violations of sanctions.”

The bank said it would not look for a bailout from the government and that it had adequate liquidity and capital.

The European Central Bank had earlier stopped all payments by ABLV, citing the sharp deterioration in its financial position in recent days and saying a moratorium was needed to allow the bank and Latvian authorities to address the situation.

A source close to the matter said the moratorium would be short, giving ABLV just a few days to assess its situation.

Only solvent institutions may receive emergency liquidity support and should the ECB determine that ABLV cannot meet its financial, liquidity and capital obligations, it could start proceedings that may lead to the bank being wound down.

Latvia’s own central bank said it had agreed to provide 97.5 million euros worth of funding to ABLV but that the bank has yet to receive the money.

The U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) said on Feb. 13 that ABLV “had institutionalized money laundering as a pillar of the bank’s business practices.”

It linked some of the alleged activities to North Korea’s ballistic missiles program, saying bank executives and management had bribed Latvian officials to cover up their activities.

​Central bank governor

Separately, Latvia’s anti-corruption authority released central bank Governor Ilmars Rimsevics, an ECB policymaker, who was arrested Saturday on suspicion of having solicited a 100,000 euro bribe. Rimsevics denied the allegations.

The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau said its investigation was not connected to the probe into ABLV.

“[Rimsevics’ arrest] … is about demanding a bribe of no less than 100,000 euros,” the bureau’s head, Jekabs Straume, told reporters at a news conference Monday.

Neither the police nor the anti-corruption authority gave details of the alleged request for a bribe.

A lawyer for Rimsevics, who was arrested after police searched his office and home, said he would hold a news conference at 11:00 a.m. (1000 GMT) Tuesday.

“I disagree with it categorically,” Rimsevics told Latvian news portal Delfi following his release, referring to the bribery allegations.

Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis had earlier called on the central bank chief to quit, saying: “I can’t imagine that a governor of the Bank of Latvia detained over such a serious accusation could work.”

Latvia joined the European Union in 2003 and adopted the euro currency at the start of 2014, a move that gave its central bank governor a seat on the ECB’s interest-rate-setting Governing Council.

The European Commission said Monday that Rimsevics’ detention was a matter for Latvian authorities.

Boom time

The economy of Latvia, which gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, has boomed in recent years. Its commercial banking sector is dominated by Nordic banks alongside a number of privately-owned local lenders.

In its document detailing the allegations against ABLV, the FinCEN said the reliance of some parts of the Latvian banking system on non-resident deposits for capital exposed it to increased illicit finance risk. It said such deposits amounted to roughly $13 billion.

“Non-resident banking in Latvia allows offshore companies, including shell companies, to hold accounts and transact through Latvian banks,” FinCEN said, adding that criminal groups and corrupt officials may use such schemes to hide true beneficiaries or create fraudulent business transactions.

“[Former Soviet Union] actors often transfer their capital via Latvia, frequently through complex and interconnected legal structures, to various banking locales in order to reduce scrutiny of transactions and lower the transactions’ risk rating.”

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In India, Trump Project Buyers Offered Dinner with Trump Jr.

Potential customers of high end property in India are being enticed by an unusual offer: the chance to spend an evening with the son of the American president if they decide to invest in residential projects licensed by the family’s company.

 

Donald Trump Junior’s week-long visit to India starting Monday could not escape attention: full, front page newspaper advertisements in the country’s most prominent newspapers have posed the question: “Trump is here. Are you invited?” and “Trump has arrived. Have you?”

 

Trump Jr. has been in charge of the Trump Organization along with his brother Eric since their father became president.

 

The advertisements, which featured large photos of Trump Jr, said that those signing up before 22nd February to buy apartments could join him for “a conversation and dinner.”

 

His first stop will be Gurugram, a business hub on the outskirts of New Delhi, where local firms under a license from the Trump Organization are developing two 47-story towers bearing the Trump brand name. The more than 250 super-luxury units in the residential blocks are selling for approximately $1 million to $1.5 million each.

 

India is the Trump Organization’s biggest overseas market, earning the family up to $3 million in royalties in 2016.

 

The hope of the business partners is that the high profile visit of the American president’s son could give sales a boost at a time when India’s real estate market is witnessing a downturn — property prices have dipped nearly 30 percent following a crackdown on untaxed money by the government. In Gurugram, home to several luxury projects, many prominent builders are stuck with hundreds of unsold flats.

Referring to the visit, Samir Juneja at PropEquity, a real estate data analytics company says “There is this big marketing push which is working pretty well.” According to him, the association of the projects with the American president’s family does help. “The brand has been created and now it happens to get a further fillip that it happens to be the president’s.”

But there is criticism of the sales trip since the advertisements began appearing on the weekend. Patrick French, a British historian who is currently Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Ahmedabad University in India tweeted, “For the last however many days every newspaper in India has been wrapped in this abominable invitation to dinner with Trump Jr.”

A retired professional in Gurugram, Umesh Sood, was not sure if the sales pitch of a dinner and conversation with Trump Jr. would actually prompt people to put their money down.

 “You are not meeting the president, you are meeting the son with the same name, without the powers, without the pomp.”

Questions have also been raised over issues of conflict of interest. The New York Times quoted Daniel S. Markey, who worked on South Asia policy for the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, as saying that “The idea that the president’s son would be going and shilling the president’s brand at same time Donald Trump is president and is managing strategic and foreign relations with India – that is just bizarre.”

Two of the organizations four Indian projects, in Mumbai and Pune, were launched before Donald Trump was elected president. The Kolkata and Gurugram projects were launched later, but the deals had been signed before his election. The Trump Organization announced it would not launch any project outside the US after he became president.

Trump Jr. is the second child of Donald Trump to visit India. Ivanka Trump visited in November, in her capacity as a member of Trump administration, to address a global entrepreneurship summit.

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In India, Trump Project Buyers Offered Dinner with Trump Jr.

Potential customers of high end property in India are being enticed by an unusual offer: the chance to spend an evening with the son of the American president if they decide to invest in residential projects licensed by the family’s company.

 

Donald Trump Junior’s week-long visit to India starting Monday could not escape attention: full, front page newspaper advertisements in the country’s most prominent newspapers have posed the question: “Trump is here. Are you invited?” and “Trump has arrived. Have you?”

 

Trump Jr. has been in charge of the Trump Organization along with his brother Eric since their father became president.

 

The advertisements, which featured large photos of Trump Jr, said that those signing up before 22nd February to buy apartments could join him for “a conversation and dinner.”

 

His first stop will be Gurugram, a business hub on the outskirts of New Delhi, where local firms under a license from the Trump Organization are developing two 47-story towers bearing the Trump brand name. The more than 250 super-luxury units in the residential blocks are selling for approximately $1 million to $1.5 million each.

 

India is the Trump Organization’s biggest overseas market, earning the family up to $3 million in royalties in 2016.

 

The hope of the business partners is that the high profile visit of the American president’s son could give sales a boost at a time when India’s real estate market is witnessing a downturn — property prices have dipped nearly 30 percent following a crackdown on untaxed money by the government. In Gurugram, home to several luxury projects, many prominent builders are stuck with hundreds of unsold flats.

Referring to the visit, Samir Juneja at PropEquity, a real estate data analytics company says “There is this big marketing push which is working pretty well.” According to him, the association of the projects with the American president’s family does help. “The brand has been created and now it happens to get a further fillip that it happens to be the president’s.”

But there is criticism of the sales trip since the advertisements began appearing on the weekend. Patrick French, a British historian who is currently Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Ahmedabad University in India tweeted, “For the last however many days every newspaper in India has been wrapped in this abominable invitation to dinner with Trump Jr.”

A retired professional in Gurugram, Umesh Sood, was not sure if the sales pitch of a dinner and conversation with Trump Jr. would actually prompt people to put their money down.

 “You are not meeting the president, you are meeting the son with the same name, without the powers, without the pomp.”

Questions have also been raised over issues of conflict of interest. The New York Times quoted Daniel S. Markey, who worked on South Asia policy for the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, as saying that “The idea that the president’s son would be going and shilling the president’s brand at same time Donald Trump is president and is managing strategic and foreign relations with India – that is just bizarre.”

Two of the organizations four Indian projects, in Mumbai and Pune, were launched before Donald Trump was elected president. The Kolkata and Gurugram projects were launched later, but the deals had been signed before his election. The Trump Organization announced it would not launch any project outside the US after he became president.

Trump Jr. is the second child of Donald Trump to visit India. Ivanka Trump visited in November, in her capacity as a member of Trump administration, to address a global entrepreneurship summit.

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Anti-Corruption Police Arrest Latvian Central Bank Chief

Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis assured the country and Europe “there is no sign of danger,” after anti-corruption police arrested the head of the Latvian central bank Saturday.

“For now, neither I, nor any other official, has any reason to interfere with the work of the Corruption Prevention Bureau,” Kucinskis said.

Neither Kucinskis nor the police gave any reason why central bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics was arrested. But a police spokeswoman said there will be an announcement “as soon as possible.”

The Latvian government plans an emergency meeting Monday.

Along with heading the Baltic nation’s central bank, Rimsevics is also one of 19 governors on the European Central Bank.

The U.S. Treasury Department has proposed sanctions against a major Latvian bank for alleged money laundering linked to North Korea’s weapons program.

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Anti-Corruption Police Arrest Latvian Central Bank Chief

Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis assured the country and Europe “there is no sign of danger,” after anti-corruption police arrested the head of the Latvian central bank Saturday.

“For now, neither I, nor any other official, has any reason to interfere with the work of the Corruption Prevention Bureau,” Kucinskis said.

Neither Kucinskis nor the police gave any reason why central bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics was arrested. But a police spokeswoman said there will be an announcement “as soon as possible.”

The Latvian government plans an emergency meeting Monday.

Along with heading the Baltic nation’s central bank, Rimsevics is also one of 19 governors on the European Central Bank.

The U.S. Treasury Department has proposed sanctions against a major Latvian bank for alleged money laundering linked to North Korea’s weapons program.

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US Commerce Department Urges Curbs on Steel, Aluminum Imports

The Commerce Department is urging President Donald Trump to impose tariffs or quotas on aluminum and steel imports from China and other countries.

Unveiling the recommendations Friday, Secretary Wilbur Ross said in the case of both industries “the imports threaten to impair our national security.”

As an example, Ross said only one U.S. company now produces a high-quality aluminum alloy needed for military aircraft.

Raise US capacity

The measures are intended to raise U.S. production of aluminum and steel to 80 percent of industrial capacity. Currently U.S. steel plants are running at 73 percent of capacity and aluminum plants at 48 percent.

Ross emphasized that the president would have the final say, including on whether to exclude certain countries, such as NATO allies, from any actions.

China’s Commerce Ministry said Saturday that the report was baseless and did not accord with the facts, and that China would take necessary steps to protect its interests if affected by the final decision.

Last year, Trump authorized the probe into whether aluminum and steel imports posed a threat to national defense under a 1962 trade law that has not been invoked since 2001. He has to make a decision by mid-April.

Three options

Ross is offering the president three options:

To impose tariffs of 24 percent on all steel and 7.7 percent on aluminum imports from all countries.

To impose tariffs of 53 percent on steel imports from 12 countries, including Brazil, China and Russia, and tariffs of 23.6 percent on aluminum imports from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam. Under this option, the U.S. would also impose a quota limiting all other countries to the amount of aluminum and steel they exported to U.S. last year.

To impose a quota on steel and aluminum imports from all sources, limiting each country 63 percent of the steel and 86.7 percent of the aluminum they shipped to the U.S. last year.

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Massive Fraud at Indian State-Owned Bank Linked to Celebrity Jeweler

The uncovering of one of the biggest frauds at a state-owned bank in India has rocked the country’s financial sector and brought scrutiny to a billionaire jeweler who counted Hollywood stars among his customers.

The nearly $1.8 billion fraud reported at India’s second-largest state-owned bank is a blow to the government’s efforts to revive the state-owned banking sector, which is already staggering under a mountain of bad debt.

Nirav Modi, whose jewelry boutiques span high-end streets from Hong Kong to London to New York and whose diamonds have been worn by Hollywood stars such as Dakota Johnson and Kate Winslet, is being investigated for the fraudulent transactions. His brand ambassador is Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, who has also carved a niche in the United States.

The fraud, which officials say had been going on from a single branch of Punjab National Bank in Mumbai, went undetected since 2011. Calling it a “cancer,” the bank’s chief executive, Sunil Mehta, told a news conference earlier this week that it had been removed. “We will resolve it and we will honor all our bona fide commitments.”

Officials at the bank have accused Modi and his companies of obtaining unauthorized letters of undertaking from junior employees to secure credit from overseas branches of Indian banks. 

Modi has not responded to the allegations and, according to some reports, left the country last month. His home, stores and offices were raided by Indian investigators. His passport is being revoked, according to the Law and Justice Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad.

“No one will be spared,” he said. “The taxpayers’ money will not be allowed to be lost. The investigation is proceeding with great speed and pace.”

Modi, whose worth is estimated at about $1.74 billion, is the 85th richest man in India, according to Forbes. Belonging to a family of diamond traders, the soft-spoken businessman founded a company called Firestone Diamond in 1999 — later rechristened Firestar Diamond — and quickly made a name in the business. He later set up his own jewelry design brand and won the rich and famous among his customers.

In January, he attended the economic summit in Davos, where a large Indian business delegation was present, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two are not related. 

The fraud, which went undetected for years, has reignited concerns about governance standards at Indian banks and norms that are used for lending to corporate customers. Questions have been raised as to why audits failed to detect the fraud for years.

It came to light weeks after the government announced a $14 billion bailout for state banks. These banks, which account for about two-thirds of all bank assets in the country, are the backbone of the financial system, but are saddled with bad debt estimated at $147 billion.

Economists have warned that this mountain of bad loans threatens India’s efforts to accelerate its economy as it slows down efforts by banks to lend to potential investors.

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