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Consequences of WikiLeaks tax leaks depend on the details

The individuals and companies whose offshore account information may be detailed in Swiss banking documents disclosed to WikiLeaks could face U.S. prosecutors or go untouched, senior tax lawyers said on Tuesday.

Whether the more than 2,000 wealthy investors and companies from the United States, Europe, Asia and elsewhere get a knock on the door from the Internal Revenue Service or other U.S. agencies will depend in large part on if the documents contain detailed records showing criminal tax evasion.

“It’s obviously tremendously worrisome for these people, because every time a whistle-blower has said he has the goods, he’s had the goods,” said Peter R. Zeidenberg, a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at DLA Piper.

He was referring to internal bank documents and client names provided to U.S. authorities in recent years by Bradley C. Birkenfeld, a former private banker at the Swiss bank UBS, and by Heinrich Kieber, a former data clerk at the LGT Group, the Liechtenstein royal bank. Birkenfeld’s disclosures underpinned a Justice Department investigation into UBS, which agreed to pay $780 million and admit to criminal wrongdoing with its offshore private bank.

But Zeidenberg added that “simply holding an offshore bank account is not a crime. If some of these people have already reported their accounts” on their American tax returns — if they were required to file them — “or voluntarily disclosed them to the IRS, they may have nothing to fear.”

The documents were handed over to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, in London on Monday by Rudolf M. Elmer, a former senior private banker at Julius Baer. Elmer, who has a history of legal conflict with Julius Baer, one of the oldest and most secretive Swiss banks, ran the bank’s Caribbean operations as chief operating officer for eight years until he was dismissed in 2002.

Food company Yum Brands to sell Long John Silver’s and A&W

Yum Brands, which has been prospering abroad, announced on Monday that it planned to sell a pair of domestic-focused businesses, Long John Silver’s and A&W All-American Food.

In recent years, Yum, a fast-food purveyor best known for its KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut franchises, has been increasing its focus on China and other fast-growing foreign countries. International markets now account for 65 percent of its profit, up from about a third in 2002.

But while the marquee brands have translated well abroad, Long John Silver’s and A&W have not had the same appeal.

“A&W and Long John’s are not strong brands,” said Keith Siegner, a Credit Suisse analyst. “It’s a distraction in a noncore concept.”

Long John Silver’s and A&W account for 1,630 restaurants in Yum’s portfolio — a small fraction of the company’s sprawling network of 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries. Siegner estimated that the two chains generated about $20 million in operating profit in 2009. Private equity firms looking to acquire one or both brands are the most likely buyers.

Jobs takes medical leave at Apple, raising questions

SAN FRANCISCO — Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder and chief executive of Apple, is taking a medical leave of absence, a year and a half after his return following a liver transplant. The leave raises questions about both his long-term prognosis and the leadership of the world’s most valuable technology company.

Jobs, 55, who recovered from pancreatic cancer after surgery in 2004, has not appeared at public events since October and has looked increasingly frail in recent weeks, according to people who have seen him.

An Apple spokeswoman, Katie Cotton, said that Apple would have no further comment beyond a brief public statement in which Jobs announced he was turning daily oversight of the company’s operations over to the chief operating officer, Timothy D. Cook.

While Apple and Jobs provided no more details of his illness, Jobs suffers from immune system problems common in people who have received liver transplants, said a person who knows him well but who requested anonymity in order to maintain a relationship.

Jobs said he would remain chief executive and said he hoped to return to Apple as soon as he could.

Jobs is taking a leave at a critical time for Apple. The company has outflanked most of its rivals in the technology industry with the iPhone and the iPad, which have been blockbuster hits with consumers. But giants like Google, Microsoft and Samsung have narrowed Apple’s lead or even surpassed the company by some measures.

No fifth term for Joe Lieberman in the Senate, say confidants

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000 who later became deeply alienated from his party, will announce Wednesday that he will not seek a fifth term, according to people he told of the decision.

Lieberman, 68, whose term is up in 2012, has chosen to retire rather than face a difficult campaign for re-election, according to aides and others who spoke to the senator Tuesday.

“He believes that if he were to run for re-election it’d be a tough fight,” said Marshall Wittmann, a member of Lieberman’s Senate staff. “He’s confident he could’ve won that fight. He’s had tough fights before. But he wants to have a new chapter in his life.”

News of Lieberman’s plans broke on the same day that Kent Conrad, the Democratic senator from North Dakota, announced he would retire.