MetWest Total Return Bond Fund might work for the first group, and its MetWest Flexible Income Fund for the second.

A puzzle for all bond-fund investors is how the end of the Covid-19 pandemic might affect interest rates.

Rates usually rise when the economy grows, as it’s expected to do as the world emerges from the pandemic. As that happens, inflation may rise, which could stifle a long bull market in bonds. Bond prices rise as interest rates fall.

Yet renewed inflation has been erroneously predicted before, and Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, has made clear that the bank isn’t rushing to raise the short-term rates it controls.

For investors who are counting on their bond funds for income, continued low rates could create a temptation to court risk.

A more patient approach is prudent, said Mary Ellen Stanek, chief investment officer for Baird Advisors, which oversees the Baird Funds.

“You don’t own bonds for excitement and drama,” she said. “You own them for predictability and lower volatility.”

Ms. Jones of Schwab warned, too, against seeking excessive risk. She suggested investors instead rethink how they take cash from their portfolios.

“In a year when your stocks are up 20 percent and your bonds are up 2, you may want to pull out some of those capital gains and put them in your cash bucket,” she said. “Say you’re looking to generate 6 percent overall, and you’ve made 20 percent in stocks. If you have excess above your plan, you can look at that as potential income.”

No matter what path investors choose, they should always pay close attention to the costs of funds and E.T.F.s, said Jennifer Ellison, a financial adviser at Bingham, Osborn & Scarborough in San Francisco.

“Costs are really important, especially with yields where they are,” since those costs will eat up much of that scant yield, she said. “If you’re a retail investor and you’re buying a loaded bond fund, you’re giving all your yield away up front.”


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New proposal would ban most foreclosures until 2022.

A wave of foreclosures and evictions threatens to arrive when pandemic-related pauses expire later this year, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is considering restrictions on mortgage servicers that would spread the hit into 2022.

More than 3 million households are behind on their mortgage payments, and nearly 1.7 million will run out their forbearance periods in September, according to the bureau.

“We are at really an unusual point in history,” said Diane Thompson, a senior adviser at the bureau. “I don’t think anybody has ever before seen this many mortgages in forbearance at one time that are expected to exit at one time.”

So the bureau has come up with a proposal to ensure that homeowners don’t go straight from forbearance to foreclosure.

proposed a new rule that would prevent servicers from starting foreclosure proceedings until after Dec. 31. The intent, bureau officials said, is to give borrowers coming off forbearance time to consider their options, such as whether they need a mortgage modification to reduce their monthly payments. The restriction would apply only to mortgages on homes used as primary residences.

The agency also proposed a rule change that would allow servicers to extend loan modification offers to borrowers experiencing a Covid-related hardship without undertaking the full review normally required to adjust a mortgage. The intention is to let lenders quickly offer borrowers more affordable terms, so long as the change does not increase the borrower’s monthly payment or extend the loan’s term by more than 40 years.

The consumer bureau is seeking public comment on its proposals, a required step in the rule-making process that will allow industry groups a chance to raise concerns about the changes.

The Mortgage Bankers Association, a housing industry trade group, did not immediately comment on Monday.

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Jobless Claims Tick Up, Showing a Long Road to Recovery: Live Updates

filed for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was up modestly from the week before, but still among the lowest weekly totals since the pandemic began.

In addition, 237,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers people who don’t qualify for state benefits programs. That number, too, has been falling.

Jobless claims remain high by historical standards, and are far above the norm before the pandemic, when around 200,000 people a week were filing for benefits. Applications have improved only gradually — even after the recent declines, the weekly figure is modestly below where it was last fall.

But economists are optimistic that further improvement is ahead as the vaccine rollout accelerates and more states lift restrictions on business activity. Fewer companies are laying off workers, and hiring has picked up, meaning that people who lose their jobs are more likely to find new ones quickly.

“We could actually finally see the jobless claims numbers come down because there’s enough job creation to offset the layoffs,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the job site ZipRecruiter.

But Ms. Pollak cautioned that benefits applications would not return to normal overnight. Even as many companies resume normal operations, others are discovering that the pandemic has permanently disrupted their business model.

“There are still a lot of business closures and a lot of layoffs that have yet to happen,” she said. “The repercussions of this pandemic are still rippling through this economy.”

Shoppers in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. Germany and other countries have cut their value-added taxes to encourage consumer spending.
Credit…Lena Mucha for The New York Times

The European Central Bank’s chief economist argued on Thursday that fears of a big rise in inflation are overblown, a sign that the people who control interest rates in the eurozone are likely to keep them very low for some time to come.

The comments — by Philip Lane, an influential member of the central bank’s Governing Council whose job includes briefing other members on the economic outlook — are an attempt to calm bond investors who are nervous that the end of the pandemic will lead to high inflation.

Fueling their fears, inflation in the eurozone rose to an annual rate of 1.3 percent in March from 0.9 percent in February, according to official data released on Wednesday, the fastest increase in prices in more than a year.

Market-based interest rates have been rising because investors worry that President Biden’s $2 trillion stimulus program will provoke a broad increase in prices for years to come. The interest rates that prevail on bond markets ripple through the financial system and can make mortgages and other types of borrowing more expensive, creating a drag on economic growth.

Despite big monthly swings in inflation during the last year, the average had been remarkably stable at an annual rate of about 1 percent, Mr. Lane wrote in a blog post on the central bank’s website on Thursday. That is well below the European Central Bank’s target of 2 percent.

“The volatility in inflation over 2020 and 2021 can be attributed to a host of temporary factors that should not affect medium-term inflation dynamics,” Mr. Lane wrote.

That is another way of saying that the European Central Bank is not going to panic about short-lived fluctuations in inflation and put the brakes on the eurozone economy anytime soon.

On the contrary, Mr. Lane’s analysis suggests that the European Central Bank will continue trying to push inflation toward the 2 percent target. In March, the central bank said it would increase its purchases of government and corporate bonds to try to keep a lid on market-based interest rates.

Mr. Lane said it was no surprise to see “considerable volatility in inflation during the pandemic period.” He attributed the ups and downs to quirky factors that are not likely to recur.

Germany and some other countries cut their value-added taxes to encourage consumer spending, then raised them again later. The price of fuel fluctuated wildly. People spent almost nothing on travel, but increased spending on home exercise equipment or products that they needed to work from home. That affected the way inflation is calculated and made the annual rate look higher, Mr. Lane said.

“The medium-term outlook for inflation remains subdued,” he wrote, “and closing the gap to our inflation aim will set the agenda for the Governing Council in the coming years.”

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi oil minister, has argued that increasing oil output too fast would be risky.
Credit…via Reuters

OPEC and its allies, including Russia, are expected to meet by videoconference Thursday to discuss whether to ease production curbs on oil as countries around the world try to expand from pandemic lockdowns.

Analysts say recent events will support the views of Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi oil minister, who has argued for caution in increasing supply, noting the risks of swamping the market. But other outcomes are possible at the meeting of the group known as OPEC Plus, including modest increases and even cuts in oil production,

France’s reimposition of a national lockdown, announced Wednesday, underlines persistent doubts about the pace of recovery from the pandemic, as have rising case numbers in the United States.

After modest increases when the Suez Canal was recently blocked by a cargo ship, oil prices were rising again on Thursday, with Brent crude, the global benchmark, about 1.6 percent higher, to $63.75 a barrel.

“All signs seemingly point to the group maintaining current production levels,” Helima Croft, head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, an investment bank, wrote in a note to clients on Wednesday.

Yet pressure may also come to increase supply. Members of the OPEC Plus group are withholding an estimated eight million barrels of a day, or about 9 percent of current global consumption. As the global economy recovers, it will become increasingly difficult for the Saudis to persuade others to restrain supplies.

A ChargePoint charging station in Berkeley, Calif. Shares in ChargePoint rose 19 percent on Wednesday. President Biden’s infrastructure plan supports the use of electric vehicles.
Credit…John G Mabanglo/EPA, via Shutterstock

U.S. stock futures rose on Thursday and tech stocks were set to extend their rally as traders focused on optimism about the economic recovery. Shares in Europe and Asia were also higher before the Labor Department’s latest weekly report on initial applications for state unemployment benefits.

Bond yields pulled back from their recent 14-month high. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell 3 basis points, or 0.03 percentage point, to 1.71 percent.

Last week, jobless claims were at the lowest for the pandemic, but economists have warned against assuming this is the new trend because of measurement issues. New data released on Thursday showed a slight rise in claims for unemployment benefits, On Friday, the Labor Department will publish its monthly jobs report for March.

The occupancy rate in nursing homes in the fourth quarter of 2020 was down 11 percentage points from the first quarter, but there are hurdles to staying out of facilities.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

The pandemic has intensified a spotlight on long-running questions about how communities can do a better job supporting seniors who need care but want to live outside a nursing home.

The coronavirus had taken the lives of 181,000 people in U.S. nursing homes, assisted living and other long-term care facilities through last weekend, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — 33 percent of the national toll.

The occupancy rate in nursing homes in the fourth quarter of 2020 was 75 percent, down 11 percentage points from the first quarter, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, a research group. The shift may not be permanent, but this much is clear: As the aging of the nation accelerates, most communities need to do much more to become age-friendly, said Jennifer Molinsky, senior research associate at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard.

“It’s about all the services that people can access, whether that’s the accessibility and affordability of housing, or transportation and supports that can be delivered in the home,” she said.

But there are hurdles for those who wish to stay out of a facility, Mark Miller reports for The New York Times:

Marigold Lewi and Kimberley Vasquez outside their high school Baltimore City College this month in Baltimore, MD.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

A year after the pandemic turned the nation’s digital divide into an education emergency, President Biden is making affordable broadband a top priority, comparing it to the effort to spread electricity across the country. His $2 trillion infrastructure plan, announced on Wednesday, includes $100 billion to extend fast internet access to every home.

The money is meant to improve the economy by enabling all Americans to work, get medical care and take classes from wherever they live. Although the government has spent billions on the digital divide in the past, the efforts have failed to close it partly because people in different areas have different problems. Affordability is the main culprit in urban and suburban areas. In many rural areas, internet service isn’t available at all because of the high costs of installation.

“We’ll make sure every single American has access to high-quality, affordable, high speed internet,” Mr. Biden said in a speech on Wednesday. “And when I say affordable, I mean it. Americans pay too much for internet. We will drive down the price for families who have service now.”

Longtime advocates of universal broadband say the plan, which requires congressional approval, may finally come close to fixing the digital divide, a stubborn problem first identified and named by regulators during the Clinton administration. The plight of unconnected students during the pandemic added urgency.

“This is a vision document that says every American needs access and should have access to affordable broadband,” said Blair Levin, who directed the 2010 National Broadband Plan at the Federal Communications Commission. “And I haven’t heard that before from a White House to date.”

Some advocates for expanded broadband access cautioned that Mr. Biden’s plan might not entirely solve the divide between the digital haves and have-nots.

The plan promises to give priority to municipal and nonprofit broadband providers but would still rely on private companies to install cables and erect cell towers to far reaches of the country. One concern is that the companies won’t consider the effort worth their time, even with all the money earmarked for those projects. During the electrification boom of the 1920s, private providers were reluctant to install poles and string lines hundreds of miles into sparsely populated areas.

Taxpayers who received unemployment benefits last year — but who filed their federal tax returns before a new tax break became available — could receive an automatic refund as early as May, the Internal Revenue Service said on Wednesday.

The latest pandemic relief legislation — signed into law on March 11, in the thick of tax season — made the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits tax-free in 2020 for people with modified adjusted incomes of less than $150,000. (Married taxpayers filing jointly can exclude up to $20,400.)

But some Americans had already filed their tax returns by March and have been waiting for official agency guidance. Millions of U.S. workers filed for unemployment last year, but the I.R.S. said it was still determining how many workers affected by the tax change had already filed their tax returns.

On Wednesday, the I.R.S. confirmed that it would automatically recalculate the correct amount of benefits subject to taxation — and any overpayment will be refunded or applied to any other outstanding taxes owed. The first refunds are expected to be issued in May and will continue into the summer.

The I.R.S. said it would begin processing the simpler returns first, or those eligible for up to $10,200 in excluded benefits, and then would turn to returns for joint filers and others with more complex returns.

There is no need for those affected to file an amended return unless the calculations make the taxpayer newly eligible for additional federal credits and deductions not already included on the original tax return, the agency said. Those taxpayers may want to review their state tax returns as well, the I.R.S. said.

People who still haven’t filed and expect to do so electronically can simply answer the questions asked by their online tax preparer, which will factor in the new tax break when they file. The agency provided an updated worksheet and additional guidance in March for taxpayers that prefer paper.

Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets, demonstrated above in 2017, will equip soldiers with night vision, thermal vision and audio communication.
Credit…Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Microsoft said Wednesday that it would begin producing more than 120,000 augmented reality headsets for Army soldiers under a contract that could be worth up to $21.9 billion.

The HoloLens headsets use a technology called the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, which will equip soldiers wearing them with night vision, thermal vision and audio communication. The devices also have sensors that help soldiers target opponents in battle.

The deal is likely to create waves inside Microsoft, where some employees have objected to working with the Pentagon. Employees at other big tech companies, like Google, have also rejected what they say is the weaponization of their technology.

But Microsoft has long courted Defense Department work, including a $10 billion contract to build a cloud-computing system. Amazon had been seen as a front-runner to win the contract, but the Defense Department chose Microsoft.

Amazon claimed that President Donald J. Trump had interfered in the process because of his feud with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and the owner of The Washington Post. A legal fight over the contract is still active.

Soldiers have tested the Microsoft headsets for two years, the company said. The Army said the devices would be used in combat and training.

Microsoft said its testing of the headsets had helped the Defense Department’s “efforts to modernize the U.S. military by taking advantage of advanced technology and new innovations not available to military.”

The devices will “provide the improved situational awareness, target engagement and informed decision-making necessary” to overcome current and future adversaries, the Army said in a news release.

In 2018, Microsoft won a $480 million bid to make prototypes of the headsets. The Army said Wednesday that the new contract to produce them on a larger scale was for five years, with the option to add up to five more years.

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A Novel Way to Finance School May Penalize Students from HBCU’s, Study Finds

The typical student who borrows to attend college leaves with more than $30,000 in debt. Many struggle to keep up with their payments, and America’s ballooning tab for student loans — now $1.7 trillion, more than any other type of household debt except for mortgages — has become a political flash point.

So a financing approach known as an income-share agreement, which promises to eliminate unaffordable student debt by tying repayment to income, has obvious appeal. But a new study has found that income share agreements can also mask race-based inequalities.

The analysis, released on Thursday by the Student Borrower Protection Center, an advocacy group, found that borrowers at schools that focus on minority students can end up paying more than their peers at largely white campuses.

Income-share agreements are offered mainly by schools, although some private financiers have started marketing them directly to students. The selling point of such agreements is that, unlike loans, they don’t accumulate interest, and they come with both a predetermined repayment period and a cap on the total amount that the lender can seek as repayment. To students leery of accumulating educational debt that can snowball and stick around for decades, income-share agreements can offer a more flexible alternative.

Silicon Valley investors who are funding start-ups, as well as some policymakers. A growing number of colleges and vocational training programs are letting students finance some or all of their studies with such contracts. Purdue University was the first to offer them widely, starting in 2016. Private schools including Lackawanna College and Clarkson University have followed suit. Vemo Education, a venture that manages I.S.A. programs, said it has worked with 70 schools and training courses.

But the market is opaque and lightly regulated, making it challenging for borrowers to find the kind of consumer-protection disclosures that typically accompany financial products. Financiers are generally not required to reveal any information on how much money they have lent and how those deals have worked out for borrowers.

Student Borrower Protection Center researchers obtained data from the website of one private financier, Stride Funding in Dallas, and studied its agreements to illustrate how they can contain buried inequities. (Other companies that market the agreements directly to students include Align, Defynance and Lumni.)

Like most lenders in this market, Stride varies its repayment terms depending on the borrower’s earning potential. An English major typically will need to fork over a higher percentage of salary than an engineering student. (Stride caps its maximum repayment amount at two times the amount that was borrowed. Its contracts typically require recipients to make payments for five to seven years.)

repay 5.65 percent of their income for five years, according to a payment calculator on Stride’s website. But the same calculator showed that an economics student at Morehouse, an historically Black school in Atlanta, would be asked to repay 6.15 percent of their income.

asked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last year to investigate several lenders that they said might be discriminating against women and minority borrowers by charging them higher rates, based on their lending algorithms.

“The risk of discrimination arises because the lender is not evaluating the applicant based on their own characteristics, but instead based on the characteristics of other students at their school or who were in the same major or program,” the lawmakers wrote.

Officials at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund got an early look at the Student Borrower Protection Center’s report and found it disturbing. Stride’s lending might run afoul of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, they said in a letter sent to the company on Thursday morning.

“Particularly given how the economic fallout of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately hurt Black Americans, the need for equitable access to consumer financial products and services is more important than ever,” the fund said in the letter, which was also signed by Mr. Frotman’s group.

Ms. Michaels said Stride “shares the goals” of the two groups and “is excited to have the chance to work with them on our shared mission of providing access to financial products to those who have long been left out of traditional credit marketplaces.”

told Forbes that her company anticipated making loans to 1,800 students this year.

Government regulators have been keeping a cautious eye on the emerging market. Rohit Chopra, President Biden’s nominee to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — which is often the federal enforcer of fair-lending laws — has spoken frequently about the risk of bias in algorithmic lending decisions. (Mr. Chopra, a commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission, is awaiting a Senate vote on his nomination.)

“Our student debt market is definitely broken, and it needs a massive overhaul,” Mr. Chopra said at a conference last year. “I’m not sure that new products like income share agreements will be an antidote, especially if they worsen disparities.”

Ashok Chandran, a lawyer at the NAACP fund, said he hoped state and federal watchdogs would pay close attention to the novel lending products. “This market operates in such a regulatory dark space,” he said. “We’re pretty troubled by the report, and in particular by how stark the disparities are.”

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How Illicit Oil Is Smuggled Into North Korea With China’s Help

On an overcast day in May 2020, a satellite captures this image over the sea near Taiwan. At first it appears to just show clouds, until you look closer and enhance the image. What you see here is a transfer of oil to a ship that will end up in North Korea in a possible violation of international sanctions. Covert oil deliveries are crucial to North Korea’s economy and its ballistic and nuclear weapons program. Our investigation focuses on one way oil is getting to North Korea. We followed the movements of a single tanker and the opaque corporate structures that surround it. We spent months unraveling the story of the ship. It’s called the Diamond 8, and it’s been identified by the United Nations multiple times for its illicit trips to North Korea. We visited businesses, ports, and tracked tankers at sea, all to find out who was behind these voyages. What we discovered were elaborate networks, many that connect to the Singapore-headquartered oil trader the Winson Group, primarily through its Taiwan operation Winson Shipping. “Catering to your needs. Winson Group.” Our investigation, which includes findings from a new report by the research groups RUSI and C4ADS, reveals for the first time how the Winson Group plays a role in North Korea’s bid to get oil. The path from a single tanker to Kim Jong-un’s regime is convoluted. When we laid it all out in a flow chart, it looks like this — so we’re going to simplify it by focusing on the Diamond 8. And we’ll also look at two tankers that transport oil to it — the Ever Grandeur and the Superstar. These ships are connected by more than just their meet-ups at sea. They have ties to a handful of people who on the surface seem unconnected, but when we looked deeper, we found that most of the key individuals are linked to the same village in China’s Fujian Province. And they all have connections to both Winson Shipping and the Winson Group. Let’s first look at how the oil gets to North Korea. We analyzed photos and past videos of the Diamond 8, matched them with satellite imagery and took measurements to create a visual fingerprint. This allowed us to follow the Diamond 8’s movements last year. We confirmed our findings with experts who track oil tankers in North Korean ports. We’re going to show you two of its trips to North Korea. The first one, in February 2020, starts here, idling empty in the waters off of Fujian province, a region where oil smuggling has historically been rampant. It heads out and picks up oil from the Ever Grandeur near Taiwan and goes straight to North Korea. That trip is pretty direct. The one we uncovered in May 2020, not so much. But here’s what we know. The Diamond 8 sets off down Taiwan’s coast. It passes a port on April 30, where a second, much larger red tanker is loading up oil. That tanker, called Superstar at the time, follows the Diamond 8 to international waters, according to the ship’s transmissions. Cloudy skies that day appear to shield the operation from satellites, but as we saw, a hole in the clouds reveals the oil transfer. For three weeks, the Diamond 8 doesn’t enter any ports. It’s mostly just lingering in open waters. Then it sails north. Its required transmission signal disappears for eight days, but we found it during that window in this port in North Korea. The dimensions and features match the Diamond 8, a finding confirmed by experts. When we spot it again, its signal is back on and it’s back near Taiwan, meeting up with the Superstar to get more oil. We wanted to know who was behind the Ever Grandeur and Superstar, the two ships that supplied the oil to the Diamond 8, so we looked at shipping records to examine their history and management. Let’s start with the Ever Grandeur. We actually went and filmed it while it sat idle in the port of Kaohsiung in Taiwan. Only five miles away is the company that controls the ship. It’s called Glory Sparkling. Chien Yuan Ju, a Winson Shipping executive, told us they didn’t set up Glory Sparkling. But we found clues the companies are interconnected. Glory Sparkling’s address was on floors owned by Winson Shipping. Its address changed only after we started asking questions. And Glory Sparkling’s website, it was registered with the name of a Winson Shipping employee. We also have evidence showing that a high-ranking Winson Shipping manager named Zuo Fasheng, seen here with the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, has also worked for Glory Sparkling. We found his signature on documents for both companies, including on paperwork for the Ever Grandeur. Officials from Panama, where the Ever Grandeur is registered, told us their records show Zuo Fasheng is currently listed as the operator of the ship. Now let’s take a closer look at the Superstar, the second ship supplying oil to the Diamond 8. It’s actually much more straightforward. Winson Shipping owns it, and they confirmed the May 2020 transfer to us, but told us the ship was leased to someone else when the operation took place. But they haven’t said who. Together, these details indicate how Winson Shipping is connected to both ships that provided oil to the Diamond 8, even after the ship had been publicly outed by the UN for illicitly delivering oil to North Korea. So let’s look at the Diamond 8 itself. Winson Shipping actually owned it until 2016. And from then until 2018, every company linked to it listed their addresses and office space as owned by Winson Shipping. When we talked to their shipping manager, he said that Winson Shipping sold the ship years ago, but he also made a bold statement: It’s “ten thousand percent impossible” that it ever went to North Korea. That’s not true. Our investigation and U.N. reports show the Diamond 8 has been to North Korea at least four times since late 2019. So finding out exactly who is behind the Diamond 8 is not straightforward or easy. To learn more, we had to look to Indonesia. The registered owner of the ship is Tan Jeok Nam, a 62-year-old retiree who lives here in a modest neighborhood. He told us that he was simply a sailor who couldn’t afford to buy the $1.4 million vessel. Something clearly doesn’t add up. So we set out to find who sold him the ship — at least on paper. When we reviewed the bill of sale, we noticed the seller appears to be the daughter of Hong Kong-based businessman Tsoi Ming Chi. Tsoi is also linked to the company that manages the Diamond 8. When we visited that company in Indonesia, there was no sign of a shipping business. It’s another dead end. So back to the retired Indonesian sailor, Tan. There’s one more thing you need to know about him. He actually used to work on oil tankers. One of the tankers belonged to a Hong Kong company owned by the late Wong Tin Chuk. Wong, Tsoi — these two businessmen have something else in common. They both have links to Winson companies, including through a leased office space, mortgages, and have exchanged ships with each other, according to a report by research groups RUSI and C4ADS. And there’s a personal nexus, too. Wong and Tsoi are tied to the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, through the same village in China’s Fujian region, population 2,600. In fact, all three belonged to the village’s hometown club and the alumni association of the same middle school. Two of them have been accused of smuggling in the past. Take Tony Tung, for example. He’s faced multiple smuggling and bribery investigations. His only conviction was later overturned. Soon after he founded the Winson Group in the 1990s, Tung and his brothers were accused of smuggling cigarettes and oil into China, according to court documents and state media. One of Tung’s brothers was sentenced to life in prison. He served three years and was later pardoned. At the time of the trial, Tung had already left China. Over the last five years, Tung has stepped down from executive positions at the Winson Group and handed over the reins to his daughter, Crystal Tung. In a statement to The Times, she said, “The allegations against Winson Group are unfounded and false. Winson Group did not take any actions in violation of applicable sanctions against North Korea or any sanctioned countries.” After The Times asked questions about the company’s involvement in oil deliveries to North Korea, Winson Shipping Taiwan changed its name to Zheng Yu Shipping. Chien Yuan Ju, the executive who spoke to The Times, was also replaced as the official representative of the company. The mysterious retired sailor, the oil trader, the maze of companies — taken together, they expose an elaborate system that conceals one way oil is getting to North Korea despite some of the strongest sanctions in history, and how Kim Jong-un continues to defy the international community. As for the Diamond 8, it’s back in Fujian, China, awaiting its next orders. Its operators are now using a new trick: transmitting a fake ship name to hide its true identity. “Hey, this is Christoph, one of the reporters on this story. We spent months investigating who is providing oil to a sanctions-busting tanker that is delivering oil to North Korea. We looked at a lot of satellite images, reviewed corporate records and interviewed key players. It was a massive team effort involving reporters in four countries. What you’ve just watched is only a small part of our reporting, and you can find more details at nytimes.com/ visualinvestigations. If you have any other info on this story, we’d love to hear from you. And, of course, if you like what you’re seeing, subscribe to The New York Times. Thanks.”

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How We Tracked Secret Oil Deliveries to North Korea

On an overcast day in May 2020, a satellite captures this image over the sea near Taiwan. At first it appears to just show clouds, until you look closer and enhance the image. What you see here is a transfer of oil to a ship that will end up in North Korea in a possible violation of international sanctions. Covert oil deliveries are crucial to North Korea’s economy and its ballistic and nuclear weapons program. Our investigation focuses on one way oil is getting to North Korea. We followed the movements of a single tanker and the opaque corporate structures that surround it. We spent months unraveling the story of the ship. It’s called the Diamond 8, and it’s been identified by the United Nations multiple times for its illicit trips to North Korea. We visited businesses, ports, and tracked tankers at sea, all to find out who was behind these voyages. What we discovered were elaborate networks, many that connect to the Singapore-headquartered oil trader the Winson Group, primarily through its Taiwan operation Winson Shipping. “Catering to your needs. Winson Group.” Our investigation, which includes findings from a new report by the research groups RUSI and C4ADS, reveals for the first time how the Winson Group plays a role in North Korea’s bid to get oil. The path from a single tanker to Kim Jong-un’s regime is convoluted. When we laid it all out in a flow chart, it looks like this — so we’re going to simplify it by focusing on the Diamond 8. And we’ll also look at two tankers that transport oil to it — the Ever Grandeur and the Superstar. These ships are connected by more than just their meet-ups at sea. They have ties to a handful of people who on the surface seem unconnected, but when we looked deeper, we found that most of the key individuals are linked to the same village in China’s Fujian Province. And they all have connections to both Winson Shipping and the Winson Group. Let’s first look at how the oil gets to North Korea. We analyzed photos and past videos of the Diamond 8, matched them with satellite imagery and took measurements to create a visual fingerprint. This allowed us to follow the Diamond 8’s movements last year. We confirmed our findings with experts who track oil tankers in North Korean ports. We’re going to show you two of its trips to North Korea. The first one, in February 2020, starts here, idling empty in the waters off of Fujian province, a region where oil smuggling has historically been rampant. It heads out and picks up oil from the Ever Grandeur near Taiwan and goes straight to North Korea. That trip is pretty direct. The one we uncovered in May 2020, not so much. But here’s what we know. The Diamond 8 sets off down Taiwan’s coast. It passes a port on April 30, where a second, much larger red tanker is loading up oil. That tanker, called Superstar at the time, follows the Diamond 8 to international waters, according to the ship’s transmissions. Cloudy skies that day appear to shield the operation from satellites, but as we saw, a hole in the clouds reveals the oil transfer. For three weeks, the Diamond 8 doesn’t enter any ports. It’s mostly just lingering in open waters. Then it sails north. Its required transmission signal disappears for eight days, but we found it during that window in this port in North Korea. The dimensions and features match the Diamond 8, a finding confirmed by experts. When we spot it again, its signal is back on and it’s back near Taiwan, meeting up with the Superstar to get more oil. We wanted to know who was behind the Ever Grandeur and Superstar, the two ships that supplied the oil to the Diamond 8, so we looked at shipping records to examine their history and management. Let’s start with the Ever Grandeur. We actually went and filmed it while it sat idle in the port of Kaohsiung in Taiwan. Only five miles away is the company that controls the ship. It’s called Glory Sparkling. Chien Yuan Ju, a Winson Shipping executive, told us they didn’t set up Glory Sparkling. But we found clues the companies are interconnected. Glory Sparkling’s address was on floors owned by Winson Shipping. Its address changed only after we started asking questions. And Glory Sparkling’s website, it was registered with the name of a Winson Shipping employee. We also have evidence showing that a high-ranking Winson Shipping manager named Zuo Fasheng, seen here with the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, has also worked for Glory Sparkling. We found his signature on documents for both companies, including on paperwork for the Ever Grandeur. Officials from Panama, where the Ever Grandeur is registered, told us their records show Zuo Fasheng is currently listed as the operator of the ship. Now let’s take a closer look at the Superstar, the second ship supplying oil to the Diamond 8. It’s actually much more straightforward. Winson Shipping owns it, and they confirmed the May 2020 transfer to us, but told us the ship was leased to someone else when the operation took place. But they haven’t said who. Together, these details indicate how Winson Shipping is connected to both ships that provided oil to the Diamond 8, even after the ship had been publicly outed by the UN for illicitly delivering oil to North Korea. So let’s look at the Diamond 8 itself. Winson Shipping actually owned it until 2016. And from then until 2018, every company linked to it listed their addresses and office space as owned by Winson Shipping. When we talked to their shipping manager, he said that Winson Shipping sold the ship years ago, but he also made a bold statement: It’s “ten thousand percent impossible” that it ever went to North Korea. That’s not true. Our investigation and U.N. reports show the Diamond 8 has been to North Korea at least four times since late 2019. So finding out exactly who is behind the Diamond 8 is not straightforward or easy. To learn more, we had to look to Indonesia. The registered owner of the ship is Tan Jeok Nam, a 62-year-old retiree who lives here in a modest neighborhood. He told us that he was simply a sailor who couldn’t afford to buy the $1.4 million vessel. Something clearly doesn’t add up. So we set out to find who sold him the ship — at least on paper. When we reviewed the bill of sale, we noticed the seller appears to be the daughter of Hong Kong-based businessman Tsoi Ming Chi. Tsoi is also linked to the company that manages the Diamond 8. When we visited that company in Indonesia, there was no sign of a shipping business. It’s another dead end. So back to the retired Indonesian sailor, Tan. There’s one more thing you need to know about him. He actually used to work on oil tankers. One of the tankers belonged to a Hong Kong company owned by the late Wong Tin Chuk. Wong, Tsoi — these two businessmen have something else in common. They both have links to Winson companies, including through a leased office space, mortgages, and have exchanged ships with each other, according to a report by research groups RUSI and C4ADS. And there’s a personal nexus, too. Wong and Tsoi are tied to the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, through the same village in China’s Fujian region, population 2,600. In fact, all three belonged to the village’s hometown club and the alumni association of the same middle school. Two of them have been accused of smuggling in the past. Take Tony Tung, for example. He’s faced multiple smuggling and bribery investigations. His only conviction was later overturned. Soon after he founded the Winson Group in the 1990s, Tung and his brothers were accused of smuggling cigarettes and oil into China, according to court documents and state media. One of Tung’s brothers was sentenced to life in prison. He served three years and was later pardoned. At the time of the trial, Tung had already left China. Over the last five years, Tung has stepped down from executive positions at the Winson Group and handed over the reins to his daughter, Crystal Tung. In a statement to The Times, she said, “The allegations against Winson Group are unfounded and false. Winson Group did not take any actions in violation of applicable sanctions against North Korea or any sanctioned countries.” After The Times asked questions about the company’s involvement in oil deliveries to North Korea, Winson Shipping Taiwan changed its name to Zheng Yu Shipping. Chien Yuan Ju, the executive who spoke to The Times, was also replaced as the official representative of the company. The mysterious retired sailor, the oil trader, the maze of companies — taken together, they expose an elaborate system that conceals one way oil is getting to North Korea despite some of the strongest sanctions in history, and how Kim Jong-un continues to defy the international community. As for the Diamond 8, it’s back in Fujian, China, awaiting its next orders. Its operators are now using a new trick: transmitting a fake ship name to hide its true identity. “Hey, this is Christoph, one of the reporters on this story. We spent months investigating who is providing oil to a sanctions-busting tanker that is delivering oil to North Korea. We looked at a lot of satellite images, reviewed corporate records and interviewed key players. It was a massive team effort involving reporters in four countries. What you’ve just watched is only a small part of our reporting, and you can find more details at nytimes.com/ visualinvestigations. If you have any other info on this story, we’d love to hear from you. And, of course, if you like what you’re seeing, subscribe to The New York Times. Thanks.”

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What We Learned From Our Investigation into Covert Oil Deliveries to North Korea

On an overcast day in May 2020, a satellite captures this image over the sea near Taiwan. At first it appears to just show clouds, until you look closer and enhance the image. What you see here is a transfer of oil to a ship that will end up in North Korea in a possible violation of international sanctions. Covert oil deliveries are crucial to North Korea’s economy and its ballistic and nuclear weapons program. Our investigation focuses on one way oil is getting to North Korea. We followed the movements of a single tanker and the opaque corporate structures that surround it. We spent months unraveling the story of the ship. It’s called the Diamond 8, and it’s been identified by the United Nations multiple times for its illicit trips to North Korea. We visited businesses, ports, and tracked tankers at sea, all to find out who was behind these voyages. What we discovered were elaborate networks, many that connect to the Singapore-headquartered oil trader the Winson Group, primarily through its Taiwan operation Winson Shipping. “Catering to your needs. Winson Group.” Our investigation, which includes findings from a new report by the research groups RUSI and C4ADS, reveals for the first time how the Winson Group plays a role in North Korea’s bid to get oil. The path from a single tanker to Kim Jong-un’s regime is convoluted. When we laid it all out in a flow chart, it looks like this — so we’re going to simplify it by focusing on the Diamond 8. And we’ll also look at two tankers that transport oil to it — the Ever Grandeur and the Superstar. These ships are connected by more than just their meet-ups at sea. They have ties to a handful of people who on the surface seem unconnected, but when we looked deeper, we found that most of the key individuals are linked to the same village in China’s Fujian Province. And they all have connections to both Winson Shipping and the Winson Group. Let’s first look at how the oil gets to North Korea. We analyzed photos and past videos of the Diamond 8, matched them with satellite imagery and took measurements to create a visual fingerprint. This allowed us to follow the Diamond 8’s movements last year. We confirmed our findings with experts who track oil tankers in North Korean ports. We’re going to show you two of its trips to North Korea. The first one, in February 2020, starts here, idling empty in the waters off of Fujian province, a region where oil smuggling has historically been rampant. It heads out and picks up oil from the Ever Grandeur near Taiwan and goes straight to North Korea. That trip is pretty direct. The one we uncovered in May 2020, not so much. But here’s what we know. The Diamond 8 sets off down Taiwan’s coast. It passes a port on April 30, where a second, much larger red tanker is loading up oil. That tanker, called Superstar at the time, follows the Diamond 8 to international waters, according to the ship’s transmissions. Cloudy skies that day appear to shield the operation from satellites, but as we saw, a hole in the clouds reveals the oil transfer. For three weeks, the Diamond 8 doesn’t enter any ports. It’s mostly just lingering in open waters. Then it sails north. Its required transmission signal disappears for eight days, but we found it during that window in this port in North Korea. The dimensions and features match the Diamond 8, a finding confirmed by experts. When we spot it again, its signal is back on and it’s back near Taiwan, meeting up with the Superstar to get more oil. We wanted to know who was behind the Ever Grandeur and Superstar, the two ships that supplied the oil to the Diamond 8, so we looked at shipping records to examine their history and management. Let’s start with the Ever Grandeur. We actually went and filmed it while it sat idle in the port of Kaohsiung in Taiwan. Only five miles away is the company that controls the ship. It’s called Glory Sparkling. Chien Yuan Ju, a Winson Shipping executive, told us they didn’t set up Glory Sparkling. But we found clues the companies are interconnected. Glory Sparkling’s address was on floors owned by Winson Shipping. Its address changed only after we started asking questions. And Glory Sparkling’s website, it was registered with the name of a Winson Shipping employee. We also have evidence showing that a high-ranking Winson Shipping manager named Zuo Fasheng, seen here with the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, has also worked for Glory Sparkling. We found his signature on documents for both companies, including on paperwork for the Ever Grandeur. Officials from Panama, where the Ever Grandeur is registered, told us their records show Zuo Fasheng is currently listed as the operator of the ship. Now let’s take a closer look at the Superstar, the second ship supplying oil to the Diamond 8. It’s actually much more straightforward. Winson Shipping owns it, and they confirmed the May 2020 transfer to us, but told us the ship was leased to someone else when the operation took place. But they haven’t said who. Together, these details indicate how Winson Shipping is connected to both ships that provided oil to the Diamond 8, even after the ship had been publicly outed by the UN for illicitly delivering oil to North Korea. So let’s look at the Diamond 8 itself. Winson Shipping actually owned it until 2016. And from then until 2018, every company linked to it listed their addresses and office space as owned by Winson Shipping. When we talked to their shipping manager, he said that Winson Shipping sold the ship years ago, but he also made a bold statement: It’s “ten thousand percent impossible” that it ever went to North Korea. That’s not true. Our investigation and U.N. reports show the Diamond 8 has been to North Korea at least four times since late 2019. So finding out exactly who is behind the Diamond 8 is not straightforward or easy. To learn more, we had to look to Indonesia. The registered owner of the ship is Tan Jeok Nam, a 62-year-old retiree who lives here in a modest neighborhood. He told us that he was simply a sailor who couldn’t afford to buy the $1.4 million vessel. Something clearly doesn’t add up. So we set out to find who sold him the ship — at least on paper. When we reviewed the bill of sale, we noticed the seller appears to be the daughter of Hong Kong-based businessman Tsoi Ming Chi. Tsoi is also linked to the company that manages the Diamond 8. When we visited that company in Indonesia, there was no sign of a shipping business. It’s another dead end. So back to the retired Indonesian sailor, Tan. There’s one more thing you need to know about him. He actually used to work on oil tankers. One of the tankers belonged to a Hong Kong company owned by the late Wong Tin Chuk. Wong, Tsoi — these two businessmen have something else in common. They both have links to Winson companies, including through a leased office space, mortgages, and have exchanged ships with each other, according to a report by research groups RUSI and C4ADS. And there’s a personal nexus, too. Wong and Tsoi are tied to the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, through the same village in China’s Fujian region, population 2,600. In fact, all three belonged to the village’s hometown club and the alumni association of the same middle school. Two of them have been accused of smuggling in the past. Take Tony Tung, for example. He’s faced multiple smuggling and bribery investigations. His only conviction was later overturned. Soon after he founded the Winson Group in the 1990s, Tung and his brothers were accused of smuggling cigarettes and oil into China, according to court documents and state media. One of Tung’s brothers was sentenced to life in prison. He served three years and was later pardoned. At the time of the trial, Tung had already left China. Over the last five years, Tung has stepped down from executive positions at the Winson Group and handed over the reins to his daughter, Crystal Tung. In a statement to The Times, she said, “The allegations against Winson Group are unfounded and false. Winson Group did not take any actions in violation of applicable sanctions against North Korea or any sanctioned countries.” After The Times asked questions about the company’s involvement in oil deliveries to North Korea, Winson Shipping Taiwan changed its name to Zheng Yu Shipping. Chien Yuan Ju, the executive who spoke to The Times, was also replaced as the official representative of the company. The mysterious retired sailor, the oil trader, the maze of companies — taken together, they expose an elaborate system that conceals one way oil is getting to North Korea despite some of the strongest sanctions in history, and how Kim Jong-un continues to defy the international community. As for the Diamond 8, it’s back in Fujian, China, awaiting its next orders. Its operators are now using a new trick: transmitting a fake ship name to hide its true identity. “Hey, this is Christoph, one of the reporters on this story. We spent months investigating who is providing oil to a sanctions-busting tanker that is delivering oil to North Korea. We looked at a lot of satellite images, reviewed corporate records and interviewed key players. It was a massive team effort involving reporters in four countries. What you’ve just watched is only a small part of our reporting, and you can find more details at nytimes.com/ visualinvestigations. If you have any other info on this story, we’d love to hear from you. And, of course, if you like what you’re seeing, subscribe to The New York Times. Thanks.”

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A Tanker and a Maze of Companies: One Way Illicit Oil Reaches North Korea

On an overcast day in May 2020, a satellite captures this image over the sea near Taiwan. At first it appears to just show clouds, until you look closer and enhance the image. What you see here is a transfer of oil to a ship that will end up in North Korea in a possible violation of international sanctions. Covert oil deliveries are crucial to North Korea’s economy and its ballistic and nuclear weapons program. Our investigation focuses on one way oil is getting to North Korea. We followed the movements of a single tanker and the opaque corporate structures that surround it. We spent months unraveling the story of the ship. It’s called the Diamond 8, and it’s been identified by the United Nations multiple times for its illicit trips to North Korea. We visited businesses, ports, and tracked tankers at sea, all to find out who was behind these voyages. What we discovered were elaborate networks, many that connect to the Singapore-headquartered oil trader the Winson Group, primarily through its Taiwan operation Winson Shipping. “Catering to your needs. Winson Group.” Our investigation, which includes findings from a new report by the research groups RUSI and C4ADS, reveals for the first time how the Winson Group plays a role in North Korea’s bid to get oil. The path from a single tanker to Kim Jong-un’s regime is convoluted. When we laid it all out in a flow chart, it looks like this — so we’re going to simplify it by focusing on the Diamond 8. And we’ll also look at two tankers that transport oil to it — the Ever Grandeur and the Superstar. These ships are connected by more than just their meet-ups at sea. They have ties to a handful of people who on the surface seem unconnected, but when we looked deeper, we found that most of the key individuals are linked to the same village in China’s Fujian Province. And they all have connections to both Winson Shipping and the Winson Group. Let’s first look at how the oil gets to North Korea. We analyzed photos and past videos of the Diamond 8, matched them with satellite imagery and took measurements to create a visual fingerprint. This allowed us to follow the Diamond 8’s movements last year. We confirmed our findings with experts who track oil tankers in North Korean ports. We’re going to show you two of its trips to North Korea. The first one, in February 2020, starts here, idling empty in the waters off of Fujian province, a region where oil smuggling has historically been rampant. It heads out and picks up oil from the Ever Grandeur near Taiwan and goes straight to North Korea. That trip is pretty direct. The one we uncovered in May 2020, not so much. But here’s what we know. The Diamond 8 sets off down Taiwan’s coast. It passes a port on April 30, where a second, much larger red tanker is loading up oil. That tanker, called Superstar at the time, follows the Diamond 8 to international waters, according to the ship’s transmissions. Cloudy skies that day appear to shield the operation from satellites, but as we saw, a hole in the clouds reveals the oil transfer. For three weeks, the Diamond 8 doesn’t enter any ports. It’s mostly just lingering in open waters. Then it sails north. Its required transmission signal disappears for eight days, but we found it during that window in this port in North Korea. The dimensions and features match the Diamond 8, a finding confirmed by experts. When we spot it again, its signal is back on and it’s back near Taiwan, meeting up with the Superstar to get more oil. We wanted to know who was behind the Ever Grandeur and Superstar, the two ships that supplied the oil to the Diamond 8, so we looked at shipping records to examine their history and management. Let’s start with the Ever Grandeur. We actually went and filmed it while it sat idle in the port of Kaohsiung in Taiwan. Only five miles away is the company that controls the ship. It’s called Glory Sparkling. Chien Yuan Ju, a Winson Shipping executive, told us they didn’t set up Glory Sparkling. But we found clues the companies are interconnected. Glory Sparkling’s address was on floors owned by Winson Shipping. Its address changed only after we started asking questions. And Glory Sparkling’s website, it was registered with the name of a Winson Shipping employee. We also have evidence showing that a high-ranking Winson Shipping manager named Zuo Fasheng, seen here with the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, has also worked for Glory Sparkling. We found his signature on documents for both companies, including on paperwork for the Ever Grandeur. Officials from Panama, where the Ever Grandeur is registered, told us their records show Zuo Fasheng is currently listed as the operator of the ship. Now let’s take a closer look at the Superstar, the second ship supplying oil to the Diamond 8. It’s actually much more straightforward. Winson Shipping owns it, and they confirmed the May 2020 transfer to us, but told us the ship was leased to someone else when the operation took place. But they haven’t said who. Together, these details indicate how Winson Shipping is connected to both ships that provided oil to the Diamond 8, even after the ship had been publicly outed by the UN for illicitly delivering oil to North Korea. So let’s look at the Diamond 8 itself. Winson Shipping actually owned it until 2016. And from then until 2018, every company linked to it listed their addresses and office space as owned by Winson Shipping. When we talked to their shipping manager, he said that Winson Shipping sold the ship years ago, but he also made a bold statement: It’s “ten thousand percent impossible” that it ever went to North Korea. That’s not true. Our investigation and U.N. reports show the Diamond 8 has been to North Korea at least four times since late 2019. So finding out exactly who is behind the Diamond 8 is not straightforward or easy. To learn more, we had to look to Indonesia. The registered owner of the ship is Tan Jeok Nam, a 62-year-old retiree who lives here in a modest neighborhood. He told us that he was simply a sailor who couldn’t afford to buy the $1.4 million vessel. Something clearly doesn’t add up. So we set out to find who sold him the ship — at least on paper. When we reviewed the bill of sale, we noticed the seller appears to be the daughter of Hong Kong-based businessman Tsoi Ming Chi. Tsoi is also linked to the company that manages the Diamond 8. When we visited that company in Indonesia, there was no sign of a shipping business. It’s another dead end. So back to the retired Indonesian sailor, Tan. There’s one more thing you need to know about him. He actually used to work on oil tankers. One of the tankers belonged to a Hong Kong company owned by the late Wong Tin Chuk. Wong, Tsoi — these two businessmen have something else in common. They both have links to Winson companies, including through a leased office space, mortgages, and have exchanged ships with each other, according to a report by research groups RUSI and C4ADS. And there’s a personal nexus, too. Wong and Tsoi are tied to the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, through the same village in China’s Fujian region, population 2,600. In fact, all three belonged to the village’s hometown club and the alumni association of the same middle school. Two of them have been accused of smuggling in the past. Take Tony Tung, for example. He’s faced multiple smuggling and bribery investigations. His only conviction was later overturned. Soon after he founded the Winson Group in the 1990s, Tung and his brothers were accused of smuggling cigarettes and oil into China, according to court documents and state media. One of Tung’s brothers was sentenced to life in prison. He served three years and was later pardoned. At the time of the trial, Tung had already left China. Over the last five years, Tung has stepped down from executive positions at the Winson Group and handed over the reins to his daughter, Crystal Tung. In a statement to The Times, she said, “The allegations against Winson Group are unfounded and false. Winson Group did not take any actions in violation of applicable sanctions against North Korea or any sanctioned countries.” After The Times asked questions about the company’s involvement in oil deliveries to North Korea, Winson Shipping Taiwan changed its name to Zheng Yu Shipping. Chien Yuan Ju, the executive who spoke to The Times, was also replaced as the official representative of the company. The mysterious retired sailor, the oil trader, the maze of companies — taken together, they expose an elaborate system that conceals one way oil is getting to North Korea despite some of the strongest sanctions in history, and how Kim Jong-un continues to defy the international community. As for the Diamond 8, it’s back in Fujian, China, awaiting its next orders. Its operators are now using a new trick: transmitting a fake ship name to hide its true identity. “Hey, this is Christoph, one of the reporters on this story. We spent months investigating who is providing oil to a sanctions-busting tanker that is delivering oil to North Korea. We looked at a lot of satellite images, reviewed corporate records and interviewed key players. It was a massive team effort involving reporters in four countries. What you’ve just watched is only a small part of our reporting, and you can find more details at nytimes.com/ visualinvestigations. If you have any other info on this story, we’d love to hear from you. And, of course, if you like what you’re seeing, subscribe to The New York Times. Thanks.”

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Värde-owned Vía Célere Issues First Green Bond by Residential Developer in the Euro Market

LONDON & MADRID–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Värde Partners, a leading global alternative investment firm, today announced that one of its portfolio companies, Vía Célere, has issued the first green bond by a residential real estate developer in the Euro market.

Vía Célere is the largest homebuilder in Spain by units delivered in 2020, with a deep residential land bank in key markets across Iberia.

The 5-year €300 million 5.25% high yield bond issued at par received strong demand from international investors. It was issued in accordance with the Green Bond Principles, as published by the International Capital Market Association, and reviewed by Sustainalytics, the independent global provider of ESG and corporate governance research and ratings.

The successful bond issue diversifies Vía Célere’s funding sources and supports its growth strategy in the Iberian market. The proceeds will be used, among other things, to fund cash on balance sheet and re-finance existing indebtedness, each in connection with the construction of energy efficient residential buildings in Vía Célere’s portfolio across Iberia. The developments must meet the green bond’s eligibility framework by achieving an Energy Performance Certificate rating in the top 15% of local housing.

“This is an important milestone for Vía Célere and reinforces the company’s commitment to create more sustainable housing, with greater energy efficiency and reduced carbon footprint,” said Tim Mooney, Partner and Global Head of Real Estate at Värde. “Through the lifespan of our investment, we have worked closely with Vía Célere to put in place a robust governance framework, strengthen the management team and enhance the company’s operating model.”

Vía Célere had a strong year in 2020, despite the challenges caused by Covid-19. The company led the Spanish residential market, delivering 1,932 homes, 65% more than in 2019, and has already sold 78% of the units to be delivered in 2021. 88% of developments currently under construction have Energy Performance Certificates rated A or B, with buildings emitting 89% less carbon dioxide emissions than the minimum requirement under Spanish regulations. Vía Célere continues to maintain a robust balance sheet with low leverage and high interest coverage.

Background to Värde’s investment in Vía Célere

In 2014 Värde began buying the debt of Grupo San Jose (GSJ), a large, publicly listed Spanish construction company and real estate developer that was in distress following the long-term impacts of the global financial crisis on the Spanish housing market.

Between December 2015 and July 2017 through a series of restructurings, acquisitions and capital increases, Värde ultimately took control of GSJ’s real estate development business and executed a reverse merger with Vía Célere, a smaller Spanish residential developer that Värde had acquired separately. By 2019, following the acquisition of land bank assets from Aelca – a real estate developer and asset manager – Vía Célere had established itself as Spain’s largest homebuilder.

About Värde Partners

Värde Partners is a leading global alternative investment firm with roots in credit and distressed. Founded in 1993, the firm has invested $75 billion since inception and manages more than $14 billion on behalf of a global investor base. The firm’s investments span corporate and traded credit, real estate and mortgages, private equity and direct lending. Värde employs more than 300 professionals worldwide with offices in Minneapolis, New York, London, Singapore and other cities in Asia and Europe. For more information, please visit www.varde.com.

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