Singtel loses $260 million tax case in Australia

PLUS: Chinese tops Steam’s language charts; HPE opens Saudi server factory; Indian government apps have flaws

Asia in brief Australia’s Federal Court last Friday dismissed Singtel’s appeal against a past ruling that it engaged in transfer pricing and therefore owes millions in tax.

The case of Singapore Telecom Australia Investments Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation considered how the Singaporean telco financed its purchase of Australia’s Optus way back in 2001.

Singtel tried to claim deductions for interest paid on loans it used to purchase Optus. But some of those loans were made between Singtel’s own subsidiaries, an arrangement that a 2021 judgement held to be an example of transfer pricing – the practice of structuring cross-border transactions within a related entity in tax-efficient ways that would not be possible for unrelated entities.

Last Friday’s judgement considered Singtel’s appeal, which was rejected. Australia’s deputy commissioner of taxation Rebecca Saint hailed the court’s ruling as “another substantial win” over tax avoidance.

Singtel advised [PDF] shareholders that it has provided for the sum it owes Australia’s tax authorities – AU$393 million ($261m) – and is considering its next step. - Simon Sharwood

Chinese topped Steam’s language charts

Video game platform Steam revealed its most-used language in February was simplified Chinese, a result that China-watching media outlet Dao Insights wrote is the first time English has not topped the charts since the launch of Steam China in 2021.

Steam’s February hardware and software survey revealed that its percentage of gamers who set their preferred language to Chinese increased by 7.6 percent across the month to top the list with 32.8 percent. The number of English users had declined by just over four percent to 32.1 percent. Third place went to Russian at 9.3 percent.

Beijing limits minors to three hours a week of gaming and in late 2022 declared its population was 70 percent compliant.

But February included Chinese New Year, a time when local netizens had time off from work and may have been more inclined to play video games.

India’s CERT warns of flaws in government apps

So this is awkward: India’s Computer Emergency Response Team last week revealed bugs in a pair of apps offered by India’s government.

AppSamvid, an application whitelisting tool for Microsoft Windows, was found to have a vulnerability that allows attackers to access users’ credentials thanks to use of the SHA-1 encryption algorithm. SHA-1 is not deprecated, but infosec experts advise it should be abandoned by 2030. The app also has a DLL hijacking vuln that could allow an attacker to place malicious DLLs on a system.

USB Pratirodh, an app that controls access to removable USB storage devices, also uses SHA-1 meaning an attacker could access user credentials.

The vulns are all rated High severity. Fixes are available by updating to new versions of the tools. - Simon Sharwood

HPE’s Saudi Arabia facility produces first servers

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) declared it will continue to invest in Saudi Arabia, increasing volume and factory lines, as it released its first servers made at production facility in the nation’s capital city Riyadh.

“The first facility of its kind in Saudi Arabia, the groundbreaking enterprise IT production site will produce thousands of HPE ProLiant DL360 and DL380 Gen11 servers per year,” HPE enthused last week.

The plant was created to serve local demand and as part of a strategy to diversify HPE’s manufacturing muscle.

Hong Kong to launch wholesale central bank digital currency

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) last Thursday announced a project to launch a wholesale central bank digital currency (wCBDC) to “support to the development of the tokenisation market in Hong Kong.”

“Project Ensemble” is designed to explore infrastructure to facilitate interbank settlement of tokenized money through wCBDC.

The project centres around a sandbox the monetary authority will launch this year to research and test tokenization use cases that include real world assets- like green bonds, carbon credits, aircraft, electric vehicle charging stations, and electronic bills of lading.

HKMA promised that “if the wCBDC Sandbox garners sufficient interest from the industry, the HKMA will conduct a ‘live’ issuance of the wCBDC at the appropriate time.”

In the past, Hong Kong has declared it wants to be the world’s home for virtual assets. It has run into some bumps along the way, including having to manage dodgy and brazen crypto players.

Do Kwon’s extradition destination still not settled

United States prosecutors have reportedly pledged to challenge Montenegro’s reversal of a decision allowing extradition of crypto villain Do Kwon to the USA.

Montenegro’s High Court last week decided Do Kwon should be sent to his home country, South Korea.

“The United States continues to seek Kwon’s extradition in accordance with relevant international and bilateral agreements and Montenegrin law,” the Justice Department told Bloomberg. “The United States appreciates the cooperation of the Montenegrin authorities in ensuring that all individuals are subject to the rule of law.”

Kwon was apprehended in Montenegro using faked passports in March 2023.

He is scheduled to face trial on fraud related charges brought by the US Securities and Exchange Commission on March 25. His company, Terraform Labs, is responsible for the collapse of its so-called stablecoin that wiped $42 billion from investors’ portfolios. ®

In other news

Other news from around the region we covered last week included China’s “AI Plus” plan to make the tech omnipresent in local industry. China was also accused of involvement in the Change Healthcare ransomware attack.

A Chinese national who worked for Google was charged with stealing the company’s secrets, and US lawmakers called for China’s ByteDance to divest the US operations of its TikTok social network so that Americans can enjoy it without fear of surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party.

In Space, China detailed plans to launch three new types of rocket this year, and Japan proudly showed off the first images captured by its orbiting XRISM space telescope.

In Singapore, local superapp Grab detailed its ongoing effort to keep the footprint of its flagship app small – lest it overwhelm the modest smartphones prevalent across the region.

India’s government demanded AI services seek government approval before commencing operations, and unveiled AI funding that will boost education and go towards construction of a 10,000-GPU supercomputer.

Another regional story that caught our eye concerned Korean web giant NAVER, the half-owner of SoftBank-controlled messaging app LINE. Japanese authorities blamed a data leak at LINE on the entanglement of its tech stack with NAVER and ordered the two companies to dis-integrate to the maximum extent possible. ®

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