Grafton won't be panic-buying in Europe, says new boss

The Irish Independent reports that Grafton Group remains on the hunt for acquisitions in Europe, but chief executive Gavin Slark says there's "no panic" for the company to get its chequebook out.

In an interview with the Irish Independent today - his first since being appointed CEO at Grafton last year - Mr Slark said finding value was key for the group, which in Ireland owns the Woodies and Atlantic Homecare DIY chains.

"We are looking at different European territories," he said. "But the Grafton Group has worked very hard since 2007 to keep a very strong financial base and the one thing that we're not going to do is make any rash decisions that will fundamentally weaken that.

"Although we are able to invest and are willing to invest, we will only do it if we believe we can find real value."

The company generates about 75% of its €2bn in annual revenue in the UK, and the bulk of the remainder in Ireland. It also has a small presence in Poland and Belgium.

"We have been able to find real value in Belgium," he said. "There are other European territories that we would be interested in expanding into, predominantly in western Europe, but there's no panic for us to do it. There's plenty that we can do to improve the business we have."

He declined to say how much financial firepower Grafton might roll out for acquisitions.

Accused ‘forged documents’ to dupe AIB into loans

The Irish Examiner reports that prosecutors in a massive property fraud case in London said one of the accused fabricated documents to convince AIB to loan money for real estate deals.

Achilleas Kallakis and Alexander Williams are accused of more than £60m (€74.1m) of fraud against AIB and Bank of Scotland. Both have pleaded not guilty to 23 counts.

Speaking at Southwark crown court, the prosecution said that Williams had forged signatures and invented documents which purported to show Hong Kong-listed Sun Hung Kai Properties as the guarantors behind properties AIB had lent £740m for the accused to buy between 2003 and 2008.

"These documents were invented with forged signatures to give the bank an illusion of a good relationship with SHKP," said the prosecution.

Williams denied the allegation. He said there were various documents and a memorandum of understanding between him and SHKP, but that they were stored at his old office in Monaco, and had since been lost.

Google maps returns to App Store

The Irish Times reports that Google unveiled its mapping application for Apple's iPhone, iPad and other iOS devices, restoring a popular tool that the smartphone maker replaced with its own in September.

The free Google Maps app is available in more than 40 countries and 29 languages, Google said in a blog posting today.

Google was widely expected to introduce its own app after the new version of Apple's iOS mobile software removed the built-in software.

The original app, powered by Google, was an essential feature since the iPhone's debut in 2007.

Critics faulted Apple's new application for unreliable landmark searches, routes that get users lost and lack of public transit directions, prompting chief executive officer Tim Cook to issue a rare apology to consumers.

"People around the world have been asking for Google Maps on iPhone," the company said in the blog post.

Police raid Deutsche HQ in tax probe

The Financial Times reports that two of Deutsche Bank’s top executives have been drawn into a tax fraud inquiry by German prosecutors, casting further dark clouds over the country’s largest bank.

Police and investigators raided the bank’s headquarters as part of a probe into tax evasion, money laundering and obstruction of justice involving carbon trading.

Jürgen Fitschen, the bank’s co-chief executive, and Stefan Krause, chief financial officer, are involved because they signed the bank’s value-added tax statement in 2009, Deutsche said.

Arrest warrants against five employees were issued and premises in Berlin and Düsseldorf as well as Frankfurt were searched, prosecutors said. Lines of police vans remained outside the offices on Wednesday afternoon.

The extensive operation - which prosecutors said involved some 500 officials across Germany - widens the scope of a long-running investigation into tax fraud over trading carbon emissions permits.