Dollars

June 2014


Han Hae-kyung takes an electrotherapy on her shoulder and back at Gang-won Rehabilitation Hospital, South Korea image www.acbocallcentre.com

SEOUL — When Han Hye-kyung finished high school and got a job at Samsung, her family celebrated with a barbecue. But within two years, she stopped menstruating. And then she couldn’t walk straight. And then doctors found a brain tumour, something she and her family claim came from toxins at a factory run by the South Korean tech giant.

Han and her mother are among a small group of Koreans who say there’s a dark side to this country’s most iconic conglomerate. They say conditions at a Samsung Electronics production plant caused hundreds of rare diseases over the past two decades, some fatal, with most victims in their 20s or 30s.

The fight between Samsung and dozens of former workers persisted for years on the fringes. But the plight of those ex-employees has suddenly forced its way into the mainstream, reflecting South Korea’s growing concern about safety and corporate accountability.

Samsung and other chaebol, as the conglomerates are known, have long stood as the unassailable patriarchs of South Korea’s Third-World-to-riches rise. But in the past few months, lawmakers have demanded that Samsung provide an explanation for the spate of rare diseases. A crowd-sourced movie inspired by the issue hit theatres. And recently, Samsung apologised in a nationally televised news conference for its “lack of attention” to the pain and distress of former employees with the unusual illnesses.

There’s no clear proof linking the diseases with factory conditions. Samsung said in a statement to The Washington Post that it is “meeting or exceeding” industry health and safety standards and emphasised a series of safety innovations that it called “best-in-class.” But some politicians and activists here say the employees’ health problems highlight the faults of a company that emphasised productivity over safety and prevented the formation of workers’ unions.

For those who have pushed Samsung to acknowledge the diseases, the recent apology was a partial vindication, coming after years in which Samsung questioned their credibility. Samsung promised compensation for victims but pointedly did not claim responsibility. Han and her mother, Kim Shi-nyeo, watched the announcement on an off-brand flat-screen at their rented apartment; Kim had sold nearly every Samsung product she owned because just looking at the logo made her angry.

Han, severely disabled by the surgery to remove her brain tumour, beat her chest as she heard Samsung Electronics chief executive Kwon Oh-hyun say he was “heartbroken” by what had happened.

Kim teared up.

“I felt, to an extent, like all those years we’ve had to go through were recognised,” Kim said. “At the same time, the fact still remains that my daughter has to live the rest of her life this way.”

Complicated claims

Samsung is known globally for its televisions and smartphones, but within Korea, its influence is broader — that of a do-everything titan that sells life insurance, builds apartments and accounts for one-fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product.

Those who study Samsung say the company is increasingly sensitive to blemishes on its image as its ailing chairman, Lee Kun-hee, prepares to pass the reins to his only son.

“The social mood is changing in Korea, and I think Samsung sensed that,” said Kim Sang-jo, an economist at Hansung University who specialises in the conglomerate. “The [rare diseases] had become a symbolic problem for Samsung. It was starting to be seen as a very arrogant and stubborn company.”

Concern about Samsung’s factory conditions first surfaced seven years ago, when two former employees who had worked side by side, Hwang Yu-mi and Lee Suk-yeong, died of leukemia within months of one another. Hwang was 23, and her father, a taxi driver, felt the deaths couldn’t be a coincidence.

In the years since, about 200 other people have claimed sicknesses from Samsung production lines, mostly from the Giheung plant 20 miles south of Seoul, which manufactures semiconductors and liquid crystal displays.

But the claims are complicated. Most mainstream medical experts say that the causes of brain tumours and leukemia are essentially unknown. Still, there are some factors that can increase the risk, including exposure to radiation and benzene. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says “long-term exposure” to high levels of benzene can cause leukemia and some cancers.

Like other high-tech manufacturers, Samsung uses potentially harmful chemicals on its production lines — including benzene — but not at levels exceeding safety standards, according to studies that Samsung has permitted of its workplaces.

In part because of that ambiguity, South Korea’s government-run workplace compensation agency has sent conflicting signals about whether it thinks the claims are legitimate. In four cases, the agency has determined that the diseases were workplace accidents, the result of chemical exposure, according to Lee Jong-ran, a lawyer who represents many of those who have fallen ill.

But in 23 other cases, including Han’s, the agency said there was no clear correlation. Those workers have appealed to the courts, where they’ve squared off against the compensation agency and faced yet another challenge — Samsung has lent its high-profile lawyers to the government to help with its defence. (Samsung said in May that it would withdraw its lawyers from the cases.)

The diseases were reported by people employed by Samsung in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the company has since revamped its Giheung plant. Still, several employees who worked there say Samsung for too long paid insufficient attention to worker safety. During occasional power outages, air filtration systems would shut down. Work would stop temporarily, but resume before the gases were entirely cleared, they said.

“It’s very expensive to stop a [production] line for a long time,” said Ryu Ui-seok, a former Samsung engineer who worked at Giheung from 2004 until 2006 and is in good health. “After even a brief power outage, you’d smell the chemicals very strongly” as people got back to work.

Most of the workers at Giheung were women, recent high school graduates. During the one-month orientations held for newcomers, they were told about the history of the company and the apartments they’d one day be able to afford, according to several former employees. They were given detailed instructions on how to keep the production line clean, an essential for semiconductor manufacturing. But they were told almost nothing about safety or the chemicals they’d be dealing with, they said.

“All we learned was how to be an efficient worker,” said Hong Sae-mi, who joined Samsung at 19 and has multiple sclerosis, a disease she says is workplace-related. “The emphasis was on the product, not the people.”

In a statement, Samsung said that even dating back to the 1990s, 10 of 200 mandatory education hours for employees were devoted to safety. Employees were instructed on how to handle chemicals and deal with accidents. Samsung also said that in 2007, it implemented a round-the-clock chemical monitoring system, and that out of an “abundance of caution,” chemical levels were kept to one-tenth of legal limits.

Samsung declined to discuss Han’s case. A company spokeswoman said that in the West, apologising could be seen as an admission of responsibility.

“But the employees are like our family, and the company would like to offer help when the family is in trouble,” said the spokeswoman, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “Instead of looking into whose fault it is, we try to give help first.”

Fighting a lost cause

Han, who left Samsung in 2001, developed the menstruation problems while still at the company. But her more serious health issues emerged later; her brain tumour was diagnosed in 2005. In a 2012 blog post, Samsung noted that some ex-employees’ illnesses surfaced well after they left the company, making it difficult to draw a link.

Han can’t tell her own story. She has full comprehension, but she can barely speak — only a few words now and then. After years of physiotherapy, she can dress herself, but she cannot button her shirts. She cannot write. She can talk on the phone, but only if her mother holds it to her ear.

For all the attention that the claims against Samsung have received in recent months, those dealing with diseases have suffered in private for years. In Han’s case, the best-case scenario is that she’ll “one day be able to walk to the dinner table,” Kim said.

After doctors discovered Han’s tumour, she underwent high-risk surgery. She emerged from the 12-hour operation alive, but much different. Her arms flailed uncontrollably and she couldn’t lift her head. She had quadruple vision.

It was only in 2008 that Kim heard about the other, comparable cases. Friends told her that fighting Samsung was a lost cause, given its political power and clout with the news media. But Kim joined a growing group of victims and their relatives who held memorial services and brandished banners in front of Samsung’s headquarters. Kim sold a restaurant she owned and became a full-time caretaker for her daughter. A group representing the families has paid Han’s medical bills over the past two years.

Both the government agency and a Seoul administrative court have ruled there’s no confirmed link between Han’s condition and her time at Samsung. But Kim says she’s “100 percent sure” there is. There is no family history of brain tumours or other rare diseases, and Han never showed health problems before taking her job at Samsung, her mother said.

Kim is now hoping to receive compensation from Samsung in a negotiation process. Her goals are simple. She wants to outfit her apartment with grasp bars and other devices that can help her daughter more easily live at home.

“I want Samsung to think about all the years my daughter cannot work,” Kim said. “She will need help for the rest of her life.”

Henry Sapiecha

man hand clenching bank notes image www.acbocallcentre.com

There are now 13.7 million millionaires in the world, according to a Capgemini- Royal Bank of Canada study.

Nearly two million people around the world became millionaires in 2013, a year-over-year increase of 15 per cent, as surging stock and home markets lifted the fortunes of the wealthy. The increase raised the number of millionaires to a record 13.7 million.

A report from consultant Capgemini and the Royal Bank of Canada estimated the combined net worth of millionaires at $US53 trillion ($A57.34 trillion) in 2013. That was up 14 per cent from the year earlier – the second-biggest increase since the two companies began issuing wealth reports with comparable data in 2000.

The accelerating pace of wealth accumulation among the affluent coincides with a widening gap between the rich and everyone else in many developed countries.

Japan gained 425,000 millionaires – a rise of 22 per cent, its biggest year-over-year increase since 2000. Japan’s was the largest percentage gain among the 25 countries with the most millionaires.

A big reason for the jump in Japan was surging stocks. The Nikkei 225, the main stock index, rose 57 per cent in 2013. By contrast, the Standard and Poor’s 500, an index of big US companies, rose nearly 30 per cent.

A report from Boston Consulting Group earlier in June found that similar factors were driving an increase in the number of millionaires in Australia.

Surging sharemarkets created 43,000 new millionaire households in Australia, increasing wealth at the rate of more than $1 billion a day during 2013, according to the BCG study.

One in 50 households in Australia has more than $1 million in liquid wealth, the study found.

In Capgemini’s global report, Japanese millionaires totalled 2.3 million, second only to the United States. The number of US millionaires rose 570,000, 17 per cent, to four million.

Globally, a bigger increase in the number of millionaires and in combined wealth occurred in 2009, when many stock markets began rising from multi-year lows.

Much of the world’s stock wealth is concentrated among the rich. In the US, for instance, 80 per cent of stock is owned by the wealthiest 10 per cent of households. Rising stock prices have helped boost the net worth of the wealthy and, thanks to dividends, their income.

By contrast, the middle class in many countries has struggled as millions of jobs wiped out in the financial crisis have yet to return. And wages, their primary source of income, have barely kept up with inflation.

In the US, incomes for the highest-earning one per cent rose 31 per cent from 2009 through 2012, after adjusting for inflation, according to data compiled by Emmanuel Saez, an economist at University of California, Berkeley. For everyone else, income rose an average of 0.4 per cent.

The new wealth report tracks net worth of individuals, with assets defined as investments such stocks, bonds, cash, and primary residences. The report is based on a survey this year of more than 4,500 people in 23 countries.

Henry Sapiecha

Chinese billionaire philanthropist Chen Guangbiao selling canned air in 2013 image www.acbocallcentre.com

Chinese billionaire philanthropist Chen Guangbiao selling canned air in 2013

Shanghai: A Chinese billionaire has announced plans to invite 1000 impoverished Americans for a meal in Central Park in an attempt to show fellow tycoons that there is more to life than “luxury goods, gambling and prostitution”.

Chen Guangbiao, a recycling magnate from the eastern province of Jiangsu, issued the invitation to his “charity luncheon for 1000 poor and destitute Americans” through two prominent advertisements placed in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal this week. Guests will be given $US300 to spend on “occupational training” as well as lunch at the Loeb Boathouse restaurant in Manhattan’s Central Park.

The restaurant, which featured in the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally, describes itself as “the ultimate urban oasis” and “a haven for romantics and nature lovers”.

Mr Chen said he hoped that the lunch, which he expected to cost about $US1million, would boost relations between China and the United States and change perceptions of wealthy Chinese.

“I want to spread the message in the US that there are good philanthropists in China and not all are crazy spenders on luxury goods,” he told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.

The tycoon, whose past stunts include selling canned air to raise awareness of pollution and smashing a Mercedes Benz to draw attention to global warming, also hoped to serve as a role model for Chinese billionaires.

He said: “There are many wealthy Chinese billionaires but most of them gained their wealth from market speculation and colluding with government officials while destroying the environment.

“I can’t bear the sight of it, because all they do is splurge on luxury goods, gambling and prostitution and very few of them sincerely live up their social responsibility.”

It was not immediately clear whether Mr Chen’s guests would be offered a set menu at the Central Park feast or be allowed to choose from the restaurant’s a la carte lunch menu, which features dishes such as Lemon-Oregano Crusted Salmon and Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi with Tobiko Caviar and Jalapeno Wasabi Vinaigrette.

In a 2010 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Chen said he hoped to build a “charity army” of wealthy Chinese business people who would pump large chunks of their profits back into society.

Telegraph, UK

Henry Sapiecha

 

Kirsty Bertarelli performing as a support to Mick Hucknall and Simply Red at Edinburgh Castle in 2010

Kirsty Bertarelli performing as a support to Mick Hucknall and Simply Red at Edinburgh Castle in 2010. Photo: Getty Images

Extraordinary things happen to Kirsty Bertarelli’s pretty face when you ask her about her wealth. A moment previously she’d been chatting animatedly but, as soon as I mention money, her translucent eyes narrow, her high cheekbones tense, her full lips quiver. Her hands shake slightly as she grasps her soy cappuccino.

I feel unkind for making us dwell on such a vulgar topic, but I can hardly ignore it. Bertarelli is the richest woman in Britain, her fortune far exceeding that of, for example, the Queen, JK Rowling and Slavica Ecclestone.

She and her husband, pharmaceuticals heir Ernesto Bertarelli (the fifth richest man in Britain according to the Rich List, and the richest in Switzerland), are worth an estimated £6.87 billion ($A12.45 billion) and divide their time between an £8 million estate in Gstaad where ponies and llamas roam, a £10 million mansion in Geneva, and a mews house in Belgravia.

Bertarelli’s story isn’t exactly rags-to-riches. Born Kirsty Roper, she grew up in Stone, Staffordshire, the youngest daughter of a businessman who, with his brothers, owned Churchill China, one of the world’s major manufacturers of ceramics. “It was an amazing childhood,” she confirms. “We had so many opportunities: riding, tennis. We were taught good values; in the holidays we worked in my father’s factory. It taught us to be grounded.”

She was, she says, a “sensitive, emotional” child, always writing “little snippets of poetry” and appearing in local musicals. She boarded at the now-defunct Howell’s School, in north Wales. “It really did feel like a separation, I really didn’t want to go, but then … I made some good friends and we’re still in touch. I mean … it’s difficult to see them, but we stay in touch on Instagram.”

The summer after she gained seven O-levels, she became ill with bacterial meningitis. Her parents – to whom she is close — discovered her collapsed; doctors said if they’d come an hour later, she’d have died. The scare made her decide not to continue her education. “A near-death experience does heighten what’s important, and I knew I wanted to write.”

While trying to enter the music industry, she joined a model agency, which entered her for Miss UK, part of her past she refuses – admirably – to disown. “I thought the whole beauty pageant thing was quite funny; I didn’t even realise I’d won – I thought it had gone to Miss Mansfield,” she says. “I remember waking up the next morning feeling excited about it.”

She went on to win £1000 as “second runner-up” in the 1988 Miss World and continued modelling in advertisements and for catalogues. A trust fund bought her a flat in South Kensington and a place in the glossy Sloane set. For two years, she lived with casino heir Damian Aspinall in Belgravia.

At 26, she met Ernesto Bertarelli at a dinner party in a Sardinian villa. With his sister, he had just inherited Serono, the pharmaceutical company founded by his grandfather. Between 1996 and 2006, he more than doubled Serono’s revenue to $US2.8 billion, by changing its focus from pharmaceuticals to biotechnology, largely thanks to its discovery of the multiple sclerosis drug Rebif. In 2007, the family sold the company for £9 billion, since then investing in everything from property to drug companies, and philanthropy.

“There were so many girls wanting to be with him and I think he just found me… naively refreshing,” she says. “All I wanted to do was sing and be successful; I had this drive. He wouldn’t like it if I was shopping all day – but that’s just not me.” But, for a period, personal ambition was put to one side. “I was swept off my feet. Ernesto’s such an achiever; he really goes for it in business and sport and I wanted to be part of the action. I follow him everywhere, whether it’s diving in oceans or jumping out of a helicopter to ski, when I’d only skied twice in my life before.”

Still, Bertarelli continued writing, and had just won a record deal with Warner Bros. But on their honeymoon, she became pregnant with her daughter Chiara, now 13. “We were on a safari run by Maasai warriors; we were in tents and we didn’t actually see many animals, it was a bit of a disappointment. Then we went to Mauritius – but Ernesto had failed to notice that July is the rainy season, so we spent a lot of time indoors, hence nine months later the baby,” she says, giggling.

And so, like millions of women, motherhood put a stop to Bertarelli’s career. Two more children, Falco, now nine, and Alceo, seven, followed. Then there was the distraction of the America’s Cup, the world’s most contested (not to mention costly) yacht race, which Ernesto’s team, Alinghi, won in 2003 and 2007, meaning the family had to relocate for months first to New Zealand, then to Spain.

“The music industry’s very tough, there were all these changes and takeovers at Warner Bros. and at that time I was overwhelmed with motherly love, I only wanted to be with the children, plus I was devoted to supporting Ernesto. But my passion for music never stopped. It was a torment; I remember feeling like something was missing from my life. It’s hard to find the time to write songs, though. A lot of them I compose in the bath – it’s the only place where I can lock the door and the children can’t interrupt.”

It’s an “amazing” life, as Bertarelli, 42, from middle-class Staffordshire origins, admits. Her Instagram feed is full of envy-inducing photos of her in various exotic locations posing in skimpy swimsuits on her yacht Vava II, a £100 million 40th birthday present from her husband (there was also a $US3 million birthday party). They yacht is the largest ever built in the UK and includes a “fold-down beach club” (there are snaps of guests doing yoga on the deck), a helicopter pad and a swimming pool.One moment she’s playing golf in Hawaii, the next enjoying sunsets in the Alps, while her Italian-born husband, 48, is pictured skiing and windsurfing. Beside the photos, old Chelsea buddies such as Emily Oppenheimer and Lisa Tchenguiz make comments such as “Show off” and “U haven’t changed. Still remember u dancing on the gold palm trees in the Cave”.But inquiries about these activities – not to mention the private jet and couture wardrobe – are not welcome today, because I’m not meeting Mrs Bertarelli but her alter-ego, singer-songwriter “Kirsty”, who’s launching her first British album, Indigo Shores.We’re sitting in a cafe near my house in west London, Bertarelli’s “people” having disappointingly vetoed my suggestion that we meet in one of her residences. A Jaguar is parked outside, chauffeur waiting in the sunshine; there are almost certainly bodyguards.

Similar-looking to supermodel Gisele Bundchen, Bertarelli is tanned and discreetly made-up. Her wavy hair is much darker and lips less puffy than in photos charting her Eurotrash past – presumably part of the campaign to be taken seriously. Her outfit is hippie chic: flared jeans, a loose chiffon shirt, an unblingy rope of pearls hanging around her neck.

She’s friendly, especially when discussing her children, and laughs often, but the Instagram party girl (at New Year she’s in a skimpy slave-girl costume grinning into the camera) is absent, replaced by a wary woman, who answers most questions in platitudes that remind you she’s a former Miss UK.

“Kirsty’s surrounded by jealousy and negativity,” someone close to her explains. “It makes her very defensive.” Comments on her YouTube page attest to that. “Her husband must have paid a fortune to go along with this,” is a typical comment under a video of her duetting with Ronan Keating. Has she learnt a strategy to cope with the barbs? Bertarelli tenses. “Yah, I have in a way,” she says in her oddly Australian-tinged voice. “People have preconceived ideas, but the music is part of me. It’s not like I woke up one day and thought, ‘Oh, I’ll be a pop star.’?”

True, before marriage Bertarelli was striving to make it as a singer-songwriter (though contemporaries also remember her as a girl about town). In 2000, she wrote the song Black Coffee, which a record producer approved but then refused to let her record, instead “giving” it to All Saints, stellar at the time, who took it to number one, bringing her £12,000 in royalties.

“Hearing my song on the radio brought mixed emotions,” she says, smiling. “I have to be thankful to All Saints, they were so popular at the time they could make the song number one, but I knew the emotions behind that song. I wanted to sing it myself because there’d have been real meaning behind it, which was my love for Ernesto.” Passionately she declaims the lyrics. “‘I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here, anywhere at all’; that was how he made me feel.” She did, however, sing it in a Valentino gown in front of 250 people at her Geneva wedding. “Yah, I reclaimed it!”

The couple are clearly devoted parents. Ernesto has said he’s determined to be closer to his children than he was to his own father. “His father was away a lot, working excessively, so he and his sister were quite often alone, brought up by their mother – who’s a remarkable woman in her own right – while he built up the company. But we’re a very close-knit family; I had that upbringing and it really was what I wanted to achieve for my children, though it’s slightly more difficult…” she trails off.

“We don’t have a nanny anymore,” she continues. “I don’t want one; I didn’t have one. Ernesto and I are always at home, bringing up the kids. Every morning we’re preparing breakfast for them, there’s pandemonium in the kitchen, alarms going off, who has a rugby match, who has a football match. We cook for them; I know it sounds crazy! They love beans on toast; it’s Heinz but they think it’s my recipe. One of them said, ‘Don’t give your recipe away, Mummy,’ though my youngest won’t touch them; he thinks they’re absolutely disgusting.”

Like many mothers who’ve served their time during the children’s early years, Bertarelli’s now having her moment. “They’re old enough I can do a little touring and promotion and not have it affect them. It’s good for your children to see you working and having goals and aspirations.”

Still, there are child-care hassles. “Ernesto’s in London doing business so we had to think about it. Chiara can board a couple of nights, my second is on a school trip, the third one was a problem but then we realised he could stay with his cousins. Sorted!”

Having sung at charity fund-raisers, four years ago Bertarelli signed a deal with the Swiss branch of Universal Music. “My album went into the top 20 and I have my little fan base there,” she says. Then last year, Ernesto helped fund her second album, Love Is, featuring her duet with Ronan -Keating. Several tracks were mixed by techno and dance DJs; one, Hands High, was championed by Radio One’s Dance Anthems.

Vanity recording is the Ming china elephant in the room. Her husband isn’t bankrolling this album, she says; she has her own deal with Decca. “I don’t think Ernesto is going to stop working and rely on my income just yet. It still feels fantastic, though. It’s important to make your own money – it makes buying a present mean so much more, and it’s important for your own self-worth, self-belief.”

So what of Indigo Shores? Well, Bertarelli’s voice is fine – no worse than Madonna’s, put it that way. It lacks the emotional whoomph of Adele, one cited influence, but it’s pleasant Magic FM fodder. My children enjoyed it. “Which songs did they like?” Bertarelli inquires sharply, suspicious of insincere compliments.

The songs give more insight into the Bertarellis’ life than she’s prepared to communicate in person. Several are influenced by holidays in Indonesia, the US, riding on Ernesto’s Harley, about him proposing to her in Mexico to the strains of a Mariachi band. There’s one about her daughter turning 13 (“It’s tough as a mother, you have to stand back but at the same time you have to be there”), another about her “magnetic” love for her son – inspired by watching waves in the moonlight, waiting for Ernesto to return from sailing.

Disappeared, the first single, is about “how we want to be accepted for ourselves, to be loved faults and all. Like if you’re messy.” Is she messy? “Yah, Ernesto can’t understand why I can’t cut bread neatly. But it’s hard, right?”

It’s not going to be easy to persuade the public to love Britain’s richest woman for what she is, but I commend Bertarelli for trying. “I’m so nervous when I sing in public,” she says. “Everything in my body is shouting, ‘Don’t do it! But you have to overcome terror; you’ll never know what could have been if you don’t take risks.”

The Telegraph, London

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/britains-richest-woman-kirsty-bertarelli-starts-pop-career-20140617-zsa34.html#ixzz34tHSvva0

 

Kirsty Bertarelli performing as a support to Mick Hucknall and Simply Red at Edinburgh Castle in 2010

Kirsty Bertarelli performing as a support to Mick Hucknall and Simply Red at Edinburgh Castle in 2010. Photo: Getty Images

Extraordinary things happen to Kirsty Bertarelli’s pretty face when you ask her about her wealth. A moment previously she’d been chatting animatedly but, as soon as I mention money, her translucent eyes narrow, her high cheekbones tense, her full lips quiver. Her hands shake slightly as she grasps her soy cappuccino.

I feel unkind for making us dwell on such a vulgar topic, but I can hardly ignore it. Bertarelli is the richest woman in Britain, her fortune far exceeding that of, for example, the Queen, JK Rowling and Slavica Ecclestone.

She and her husband, pharmaceuticals heir Ernesto Bertarelli (the fifth richest man in Britain according to the Rich List, and the richest in Switzerland), are worth an estimated £6.87 billion ($A12.45 billion) and divide their time between an £8 million estate in Gstaad where ponies and llamas roam, a £10 million mansion in Geneva, and a mews house in Belgravia.

Bertarelli’s story isn’t exactly rags-to-riches. Born Kirsty Roper, she grew up in Stone, Staffordshire, the youngest daughter of a businessman who, with his brothers, owned Churchill China, one of the world’s major manufacturers of ceramics. “It was an amazing childhood,” she confirms. “We had so many opportunities: riding, tennis. We were taught good values; in the holidays we worked in my father’s factory. It taught us to be grounded.”

She was, she says, a “sensitive, emotional” child, always writing “little snippets of poetry” and appearing in local musicals. She boarded at the now-defunct Howell’s School, in north Wales. “It really did feel like a separation, I really didn’t want to go, but then … I made some good friends and we’re still in touch. I mean … it’s difficult to see them, but we stay in touch on Instagram.”

The summer after she gained seven O-levels, she became ill with bacterial meningitis. Her parents – to whom she is close — discovered her collapsed; doctors said if they’d come an hour later, she’d have died. The scare made her decide not to continue her education. “A near-death experience does heighten what’s important, and I knew I wanted to write.”

While trying to enter the music industry, she joined a model agency, which entered her for Miss UK, part of her past she refuses – admirably – to disown. “I thought the whole beauty pageant thing was quite funny; I didn’t even realise I’d won – I thought it had gone to Miss Mansfield,” she says. “I remember waking up the next morning feeling excited about it.”

She went on to win £1000 as “second runner-up” in the 1988 Miss World and continued modelling in advertisements and for catalogues. A trust fund bought her a flat in South Kensington and a place in the glossy Sloane set. For two years, she lived with casino heir Damian Aspinall in Belgravia.

At 26, she met Ernesto Bertarelli at a dinner party in a Sardinian villa. With his sister, he had just inherited Serono, the pharmaceutical company founded by his grandfather. Between 1996 and 2006, he more than doubled Serono’s revenue to $US2.8 billion, by changing its focus from pharmaceuticals to biotechnology, largely thanks to its discovery of the multiple sclerosis drug Rebif. In 2007, the family sold the company for £9 billion, since then investing in everything from property to drug companies, and philanthropy.

“There were so many girls wanting to be with him and I think he just found me… naively refreshing,” she says. “All I wanted to do was sing and be successful; I had this drive. He wouldn’t like it if I was shopping all day – but that’s just not me.” But, for a period, personal ambition was put to one side. “I was swept off my feet. Ernesto’s such an achiever; he really goes for it in business and sport and I wanted to be part of the action. I follow him everywhere, whether it’s diving in oceans or jumping out of a helicopter to ski, when I’d only skied twice in my life before.”

Still, Bertarelli continued writing, and had just won a record deal with Warner Bros. But on their honeymoon, she became pregnant with her daughter Chiara, now 13. “We were on a safari run by Maasai warriors; we were in tents and we didn’t actually see many animals, it was a bit of a disappointment. Then we went to Mauritius – but Ernesto had failed to notice that July is the rainy season, so we spent a lot of time indoors, hence nine months later the baby,” she says, giggling.

And so, like millions of women, motherhood put a stop to Bertarelli’s career. Two more children, Falco, now nine, and Alceo, seven, followed. Then there was the distraction of the America’s Cup, the world’s most contested (not to mention costly) yacht race, which Ernesto’s team, Alinghi, won in 2003 and 2007, meaning the family had to relocate for months first to New Zealand, then to Spain.

“The music industry’s very tough, there were all these changes and takeovers at Warner Bros. and at that time I was overwhelmed with motherly love, I only wanted to be with the children, plus I was devoted to supporting Ernesto. But my passion for music never stopped. It was a torment; I remember feeling like something was missing from my life. It’s hard to find the time to write songs, though. A lot of them I compose in the bath – it’s the only place where I can lock the door and the children can’t interrupt.”

It’s an “amazing” life, as Bertarelli, 42, from middle-class Staffordshire origins, admits. Her Instagram feed is full of envy-inducing photos of her in various exotic locations posing in skimpy swimsuits on her yacht Vava II, a £100 million 40th birthday present from her husband (there was also a $US3 million birthday party). They yacht is the largest ever built in the UK and includes a “fold-down beach club” (there are snaps of guests doing yoga on the deck), a helicopter pad and a swimming pool.One moment she’s playing golf in Hawaii, the next enjoying sunsets in the Alps, while her Italian-born husband, 48, is pictured skiing and windsurfing. Beside the photos, old Chelsea buddies such as Emily Oppenheimer and Lisa Tchenguiz make comments such as “Show off” and “U haven’t changed. Still remember u dancing on the gold palm trees in the Cave”.But inquiries about these activities – not to mention the private jet and couture wardrobe – are not welcome today, because I’m not meeting Mrs Bertarelli but her alter-ego, singer-songwriter “Kirsty”, who’s launching her first British album, Indigo Shores.We’re sitting in a cafe near my house in west London, Bertarelli’s “people” having disappointingly vetoed my suggestion that we meet in one of her residences. A Jaguar is parked outside, chauffeur waiting in the sunshine; there are almost certainly bodyguards.

Similar-looking to supermodel Gisele Bundchen, Bertarelli is tanned and discreetly made-up. Her wavy hair is much darker and lips less puffy than in photos charting her Eurotrash past – presumably part of the campaign to be taken seriously. Her outfit is hippie chic: flared jeans, a loose chiffon shirt, an unblingy rope of pearls hanging around her neck.

She’s friendly, especially when discussing her children, and laughs often, but the Instagram party girl (at New Year she’s in a skimpy slave-girl costume grinning into the camera) is absent, replaced by a wary woman, who answers most questions in platitudes that remind you she’s a former Miss UK.

“Kirsty’s surrounded by jealousy and negativity,” someone close to her explains. “It makes her very defensive.” Comments on her YouTube page attest to that. “Her husband must have paid a fortune to go along with this,” is a typical comment under a video of her duetting with Ronan Keating. Has she learnt a strategy to cope with the barbs? Bertarelli tenses. “Yah, I have in a way,” she says in her oddly Australian-tinged voice. “People have preconceived ideas, but the music is part of me. It’s not like I woke up one day and thought, ‘Oh, I’ll be a pop star.’?”

True, before marriage Bertarelli was striving to make it as a singer-songwriter (though contemporaries also remember her as a girl about town). In 2000, she wrote the song Black Coffee, which a record producer approved but then refused to let her record, instead “giving” it to All Saints, stellar at the time, who took it to number one, bringing her £12,000 in royalties.

“Hearing my song on the radio brought mixed emotions,” she says, smiling. “I have to be thankful to All Saints, they were so popular at the time they could make the song number one, but I knew the emotions behind that song. I wanted to sing it myself because there’d have been real meaning behind it, which was my love for Ernesto.” Passionately she declaims the lyrics. “‘I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here, anywhere at all’; that was how he made me feel.” She did, however, sing it in a Valentino gown in front of 250 people at her Geneva wedding. “Yah, I reclaimed it!”

The couple are clearly devoted parents. Ernesto has said he’s determined to be closer to his children than he was to his own father. “His father was away a lot, working excessively, so he and his sister were quite often alone, brought up by their mother – who’s a remarkable woman in her own right – while he built up the company. But we’re a very close-knit family; I had that upbringing and it really was what I wanted to achieve for my children, though it’s slightly more difficult…” she trails off.

“We don’t have a nanny anymore,” she continues. “I don’t want one; I didn’t have one. Ernesto and I are always at home, bringing up the kids. Every morning we’re preparing breakfast for them, there’s pandemonium in the kitchen, alarms going off, who has a rugby match, who has a football match. We cook for them; I know it sounds crazy! They love beans on toast; it’s Heinz but they think it’s my recipe. One of them said, ‘Don’t give your recipe away, Mummy,’ though my youngest won’t touch them; he thinks they’re absolutely disgusting.”

Like many mothers who’ve served their time during the children’s early years, Bertarelli’s now having her moment. “They’re old enough I can do a little touring and promotion and not have it affect them. It’s good for your children to see you working and having goals and aspirations.”

Still, there are child-care hassles. “Ernesto’s in London doing business so we had to think about it. Chiara can board a couple of nights, my second is on a school trip, the third one was a problem but then we realised he could stay with his cousins. Sorted!”

Having sung at charity fund-raisers, four years ago Bertarelli signed a deal with the Swiss branch of Universal Music. “My album went into the top 20 and I have my little fan base there,” she says. Then last year, Ernesto helped fund her second album, Love Is, featuring her duet with Ronan -Keating. Several tracks were mixed by techno and dance DJs; one, Hands High, was championed by Radio One’s Dance Anthems.

Vanity recording is the Ming china elephant in the room. Her husband isn’t bankrolling this album, she says; she has her own deal with Decca. “I don’t think Ernesto is going to stop working and rely on my income just yet. It still feels fantastic, though. It’s important to make your own money – it makes buying a present mean so much more, and it’s important for your own self-worth, self-belief.”

So what of Indigo Shores? Well, Bertarelli’s voice is fine – no worse than Madonna’s, put it that way. It lacks the emotional whoomph of Adele, one cited influence, but it’s pleasant Magic FM fodder. My children enjoyed it. “Which songs did they like?” Bertarelli inquires sharply, suspicious of insincere compliments.

The songs give more insight into the Bertarellis’ life than she’s prepared to communicate in person. Several are influenced by holidays in Indonesia, the US, riding on Ernesto’s Harley, about him proposing to her in Mexico to the strains of a Mariachi band. There’s one about her daughter turning 13 (“It’s tough as a mother, you have to stand back but at the same time you have to be there”), another about her “magnetic” love for her son – inspired by watching waves in the moonlight, waiting for Ernesto to return from sailing.

Disappeared, the first single, is about “how we want to be accepted for ourselves, to be loved faults and all. Like if you’re messy.” Is she messy? “Yah, Ernesto can’t understand why I can’t cut bread neatly. But it’s hard, right?”

It’s not going to be easy to persuade the public to love Britain’s richest woman for what she is, but I commend Bertarelli for trying. “I’m so nervous when I sing in public,” she says. “Everything in my body is shouting, ‘Don’t do it! But you have to overcome terror; you’ll never know what could have been if you don’t take risks.”

The Telegraph, London

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/britains-richest-woman-kirsty-bertarelli-starts-pop-career-20140617-zsa34.html#ixzz34tHSvva0

this-canadian-gold-mine-could-be-yours-2m-in-bitcoin image www.acbocallcentre (1)

A mine located in Canada’s historic Yukon gold belt is on sale for more than 3,000 bitcoins, or $2 million at current prices —the very first offering of its kind on popular bitcoin-only online marketplace, BitPremier.

According to the listing, the small, producing gold mine located in Dawson City has the potential to produce 3,000 to 4,000 ounces of gold per year, and the price tag includes $1 million worth of actual mining equipment, the rights to one mining property and the lease agreement to another mining lot.

The unidentified current owner claims to earn $1m annually in sales and, in an effort to also attract novice bidders, it adds he is willing to stay on to manage the property for up to five years and so ensure the operation runs smoothly.

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“The company was founded in 1986, the President and CEO of the company has been in the mining sector for 35 years. A well respected, fully compliant and profitable company, any new buyer could recoup their initial investment in as little as two mining seasons,” the ad says.

For serious buyers, full financial statements, tax returns, profit/loss, balance sheets are available for due diligence.

Indonesian villa was sold for over $500,000 on the website image www.acbocallcentre.com

In March, an Indonesian villa was sold for over $500,000 on the website — the most expensive acquisition through the platform and the single largest bitcoin purchase ever.

If successful the sale of this gold mine would definitively beat that record.

Some background

Before 2013, Bitcoin was on few people’s radars. Designed around 2007 by someone named Satoshi Nakamoto (it’s still unclear who this person actually is), the currency’s value measured in US dollars went from about 5 cents per bitcoin (BTC) to around $13 in late 2012.

But the virtual currency hit the mainstream in 2013 and just a few months later was trading for more than $100 per BTC. It breached the $1,000 mark at its peak in November. Today it’s valued at around $600.

Bitcoins are created with extremely powerful computers that run algorithms to ‘mine’ for bitcoins. Anyone with the right equipment and know-how can become a Bitcoin ‘miner’ but there’s a predetermined number of coins that can ever be created.

The main appeal behind Bitcoin is that when you trade bitcoins you’re pseudonymous and you pay practically no fees. Most importantly, the system is safe – though this idea has been seriously challenged by the recent collapse of the currency’s largest trading platform, MtGOx. The currency is also free from central bank and government control, which is why some see it as a good store of wealth.

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Henry Sapiecha

50 Interesting Bitcoin Facts

Henry Sapiecha