- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2011

UNEMPLOYMENT

Jobless claims rise after steady declines

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week after three weeks of decline.

Even with the gain, applications remained at a level consistent with modest hiring. The broader trend over the past month suggests job growth could pick up further in the new year.

Weekly applications increased by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 381,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, dropped for the fourth straight week to 375,000. That is the lowest level since June 2008.

Applications generally must fall below 375,000, consistently, to signal that hiring is strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate.

GREECE

Tax officials strike over cuts in salary

ATHENS | Greek tax officials walked off the job Thursday at the start of a 48-hour strike to protest salary cuts and other austerity measures, as the government struggles to meet revenue targets demanded by the country’s international creditors.

The prospect of a shutdown of the tax offices for the last days of 2011 prompted hundreds of Greeks on Wednesday to rush to settle last-minute issues before the strike. Many handed over their car license plates, preferring to keep their vehicles off the highways instead of paying a recently hiked road tax.

Late Thursday, a lower court ruled the strike illegal at the request of the Greek government, obliging the tax officials to show up for work Friday. It was not immediately clear how the strikers would react. Unions have sometimes defied similar orders.

The Athens Chamber of Small Industries said it sent a letter to the country’s finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, urging a change in the higher road tax and arguing it was clear the government would be unable to collect the $1.55 billion it hoped for from the levy.

The chamber said there had been a 30 percent increase in the number of people turning in their vehicle registration plates compared with previous years. That would lead to decreased road tax revenues and hurt the economy through a fall in the consumption of fuel, vehicle spare parts and spending on car maintenance and insurance, it said.

INVESTIGATION

U.S. charges filed against Deutsche Telekom

The Justice Department says German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom and Hungary’s Magyar Telekom have agreed to pay more than $95 million to end a long-running bribery investigation.

The department said Thursday that the two companies were charged under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with Magyar Telekom’s activities in Macedonia and Montenegro. Deutsche Telekom is majority owner of the Hungarian firm.

The agreements include $64 million in criminal penalties, a $31 million civil penalty imposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department’s decision to forgo prosecution of the companies if they abide by U.S. law for the next two years.

The Justice Department filed criminal charges in Alexandria, Va. The SEC sued the companies in federal court in New York.

NEW YORK

Former HP chief ordered to make letter public

NEW YORK | Former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Mark Hurd will have to make public a letter detailing sexual-harassment allegations that led to his ouster.

The Delaware Supreme Court, the state’s highest, ruled on Wednesday that Mr. Hurd’s attorneys didn’t show that disclosing the letter would invade California privacy rights. The ruling said information that is only “mildly embarrassing” is not protected from public disclosure. The letter, it added, does not contain trade secrets or non-public financial information that would qualify.

Although the letter goes into “embarrassing detail about Hurd’s behavior, it does not describe any intimate conversation or conduct,” the ruling said. Some sentences, concerning Mr. Hurd’s family, were ordered redacted, but no one appealed that part of a lower court’s decision, according to the ruling.

Celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred sent the letter last year on behalf of Jodie Fisher, who was hired to help with HP networking events and later accused Mr. Hurd of sexual harassment. Although an investigation did not find any sexual harassment, it uncovered inaccurate expense reports that ultimately pressured Mr. Hurd to resign. Mr. Hurd now works as co-president at rival Oracle Corp.

Mr. Hurd’s attorney, Amy Wintersheimer, said his counsel had requested that the letter be kept confidential because “it is filled with inaccuracies.”

“The truth is, there never was any sexual harassment, which HP’s investigation confirmed, and there never was any sexual relationship, which Ms. Fisher has confirmed,” Ms. Wintersheimer said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports