SWITZERLAND'S oldest bank is to close permanently after pleading guilty in a New York court to helping Americans evade their taxes. Wegelin, which was established in 1741, has agreed to pay $F102.2m in fines to US authorities. It said once this was completed, it "will cease to operate as a bank". The bank had admitted to allowing more than 100 American citizens to hide $F2.12b from the Internal Revenue Service for almost 10 years. Wegelin, based in the town of St Gallen, started 35 years before the US declaration of independence. It becomes the first foreign bank to plead guilty to tax evasion charges in the US.
THE US economy added a further 155,000 jobs in December, while the unemployment rate held steady at 7.8 per cent, official figures show. The jobs came mainly in the healthcare, manufacturing, construction and food services sectors, the Labour Department said. The public sector shed 13,000 jobs, mainly at the local level, but this was more than offset by the private sector. Separate figures suggested a sharp rise in activity in the US service sector. The Institute of Supply Management said its service index rose to 56.1 in December, from 54.7 the previous month.
VIRGIN France is to declare itself insolvent, the latest music chain to fail against a backdrop of consumers shifting to buying music online. The firm — not affiliated with Richard Branson's Virgin Group — has 25 stores in France, including a flagship outlet on the Champs Elysees in Paris. It has already taken steps to terminate the lease on the Paris store and will hold a meeting with unions today, a spokesman said. Virgin France employs 1000 people. The firm is owned by French investment firm Butler Capital.
Oil and gas
ICELAND has awarded two licences for oil and gas exploration and production in the waters off the north east coast of the Atlantic island. The licences have gone to Faroe Petroleum and Valiant Petroleum, with Norway taking a 25 per cent stake in both through state-owned oil firm Petoro. Experts have predicted the Arctic could be the next major oil-producing region. Iceland is hoping it will be able to generate much-needed revenues from any discoveries of oil and gas.